Now 31 years old, Robert Gesink is closer to the end of his career than the start, but the LottoNL-Jumbo rider is finding new forms of motivation. With the 2018 season underway, he has outlined his race programme for the season with a mix of stage races and one-day ambitions.
Once a GC prospect for Grand Tours, Gesink will once again set his overall ambitions to one side as he embarks on stage hunting at both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. He will help support LottoNL's overall ambitions in both races, while also targeting a number of one-day races for himself. It's a similar programme to the one he had in 2017, but after last year's campaign was cut short due to injury, he's back for more.
"Well, every year I make a programme but I don't keep it because I do stupid crashes but this year I go to the Giro and Tour," Gesink recently told Cyclingnews.
"I'd like to win more and for me, that's stages at those races. I think it's a good idea to ride both races, but not for GC. I think it's going to work out."
Gesink has claimed top-ten positions in Grand Tours on five occasions, with fourth in the 2010 Tour de France arguably his best result. That said, the podium is possibly out of range unless the three weeks go perfectly, and with new riders coming through each year the challenge only gets harder. So instead of focusing on just one three-week aim per season, Gesink is planning to spread his form throughout the year. As a winner of a Vuelta stage and both Canadian WorldTour races in the past, it's perhaps the most sensible game plan.
"I'm not saying that the GC is behind me forever but first I want to try and do this. I know more or less what my position is for GC. If nothing bad happens then I can be top-ten in Grand Tours but I don't see myself as a podium because I'm 73kg and these days there are so many little guys who can climb and have a good time trial," Gesink said. "It's even more about watts-per-kilogram these days, but I'm 31 now and I have a few more years left but I want to see how this plan goes. I'm really motivated."
Part of Gesink's new-found motivation comes from the fact that he missed half of last year. He finished second on the road to Station des Rousses on stage 8 of the Tour de France before crashing out the next day with fractured vertebrae. The fall didn't look too bad at the time, with cameras even showing Gesink gingerly getting to his feet but according to the Dutchman, his desire to keep racing could have cost him far more than just a few months off the bike.
"I also didn't think it was that bad at the time but I couldn't stand up straight. In fact what I did was really bad. I jumped on the stretcher and tried to stand up and later on I found out that I could have paralyzed myself by doing that. I should have been much more careful but the vertebrae had collapsed," he said.
The crash meant three-months in a brace and a long road back to recovery. It was a tough time for the rider, who couldn't even pick up his children as he slowly allowed his injuries to heal. At least Gesink knew about patience in such matters. In 2011 he had to come back from a broken leg.
"With the leg break I suffered a long time with strength issues and I still ride with about ten per cent less strength in one side. I'm also shorter but this injury took a long time for recovery. I had to wear the plastic corset all day, apart from when I was sleeping. I couldn't bend over. I had to keep that on for three months, and I couldn't do much at all. I couldn't be active, and that was hard. I couldn't pick my kids. After two months I could train indoors and I was counting down the days until I could ride again."
A return to racing came at the Tour Down Under in January and saw Gesink claim a more than respectable 10th on GC. Paris-Nice will follow in March, before a stint at altitude, the Ardennes and then the Giro d'Italia.
"If I could win a stage in all three Grand Tours I would be really happy. That's a project that I'm working on. I also see being part in the team's success as part of my next step. I get restless quite quickly when it comes to goals. I also think about targeting a race like Suisse or Dauphine. Winning one of them would also be really amazing."
It's all about winning, however. Gesink has been with the Lotto setup since its Rabobank days. With riders such as George Bennett and Primoz Roglic coming though, Gesink sees himself as an ideal character to share his experiences and work for others.
"It feels like a new project because it's changed so much in the last few years. There's so much unfinished business for me like you saw last year and the year before that with the crashes that I've had. This team, I value it a lot. Now we're so much more open than we were back in the day. All the riders are motivated and it's not a dictatorship. There is a core of riders who have been here a long time and we've been through a lot together but we're also friends. We've also got some real potential too, not just with Steven [Kruijswijk] but with George and Primoz, and of course Dylan as a sprinter."