Vacansoleil is one of the smaller teams in this year’s Vuelta a España field, but its rider Johnny Hoogerland is more than holding his own in the race. The Dutchman is 12th overall in the ranking, 12:18 minutes behind overall leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) and has marked himself out as one to watch in the months and years ahead.
“The race has been very hard, but it is also good,” the 26-year-old said. “It is my first Grand Tour. I didn’t have any expectations beforehand as I never did a Grand Tour, but it is very tough as the starts are always crazy. I hope that there are some stages that they go easier in the beginning, but I guess that was 10 years ago when Cipollini was riding. They were easier stages, but now it is every day at full gas.”
Hoogerland’s strong showing began with a long-distance break on stage eight to Alto de Aitana. He finished 13th there and was 22nd, 14th and 22nd again on the three most recent major mountain stages. That’s left him in 12 overall, a placing that he hopes to improve on if at all possible.
“There is a possibility to come in the first 10, and it is also possible to drop to 15th or 16th,” he said. “But providing there are no crashes or mechanical problems, I should stay in the first 15. I think that is perfect for my first Grand Tour.”
Hoogerland had a trial with Quick Step in 2003 before turned professional with a small Dutch team the following season. He competed with the Van Vliet – EBH Advocaten team in 2007 and 2008, then donned Vacansoleil colours this season. He’s clocked up some good results in 2009, with the Vuelta performance topping the others.
“I won the Three Days of West Flanders, was 12th in the Tour of Flanders, fourth in Bessèges, fifth in Marseillaise,” he said. “And all the Classics were pretty good, but not in the top level. This is actually my best result so far.
“I lost four or five kilos from the beginning of the season until now,” he added. “I was really focussed on doing something in this race, and it has been going well.”
Hoogerland’s performances could well have earned him glances from other, bigger teams, but he’s unlikely to change. He signed a new two year deal with Vacansoleil before the Dutch national championships this year.
That said there is another jersey he hopes to compete in soon. “I will hear this week if I can go for the worlds,” he said. “Nine riders are selected. Three of those are certain, and then there are three other places up for six riders. I did a very good Vuelta and so I hope I can to Mendrisio.”
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