The general vibe at Team Sky’s training camp in Mallorca is relaxed, and there are few people more so than former Vacansoleil and Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider Wout Poels. The British team’s first Dutch rider, 27-year-old Poels had been on Sky’s radar for some time and has been signed with a view to strengthening the group defending Chris Froome’s Grand Tour interests in the mountains.
Genial and with a smile never too far away, Poels reveals that Sky showed some interest in him during his four-year spell with Vacansoleil and firmed it up last season. “They said they would like me on the team. I had a really good conversation with Dave [Brailsford] and he gave me real confidence that they can make me a better rider in the future. That really appealed to me,” says Poels, who opted to switch after a single season with Omega Pharma.
“Omega Pharma are, of course, a really good team but they focus more on the Classics. When you see that Sky have already won the Tour de France with two different riders and the class of GC riders they have here then it makes you think that they can improve you as a rider. At 27, it was also the moment for me to make a good choice for my career, and hopefully it’s this one,” Poels explains.
The Dutchman’s goal is a simple but by no means easy one. “I want to go to the Tour de France and support the team there. It’s a big challenge for me because we’ve got an awful lot of good riders. But I think if I’m in really good shape I can be part of that,” he says.
“My role will be to work in the high mountains, to support Froome there. I think I can do it like I did last year in the Giro with Rigoberto Urán. We’ve got a lot of guys on the team who are aiming to have a similar role so it’s a real challenge for me to get in the Tour selection, and it could be that when you get there your role is a little bit different. You might have to work earlier, but we will see.”
The Dutchman confesses he didn’t know Froome much at all before taking part in Sky’s December training camp in Mallorca but the pair have quickly developed a good rapport. “I only knew him from races, and I don’t think we said much to each other beyond ‘Hi’. But he’s a really nice guy, very friendly,” says Poels, who is set to join the Sky leader on a pre-season high-altitude training camp in South Africa later this month.
By coincidence, the pair’s first notable Grand Tour performances came in the same 2011 edition of the Vuelta a España, where Froome finished runner-up and Poels was 17th. On the key mountain stages to the summits of the Farrapona and the Angliru, Poels stood out, particularly on the latter when he led the chase behind stage and eventual GC winner Juan José Cobo.
Unfortunately, the Dutchman’s upward progress was halted the following season when he crashed on the rain-hit Tour stage to Metz, suffering a ruptured kidney and spleen and a number of other injuries. Kept in intensive care for two weeks, Poels feared he would never race again. Even after being released from hospital, he wasn’t allowed to ride a bike for five months.
“Initially, when I was in hospital, they told me I might have to consider not being able to cycle again. I panicked a bit when I heard that because cycling was and is my life. But it turned out the doctor was a bit premature with his assessment,” Poels explains.
Although missing a piece of his left kidney, he returned to action at the Tour of the Algarve in February 2013. “Now everything is OK,” he confirms. “Having a piece of my kidney missing doesn’t affect me at all. You can compete at a high level even after having a kidney taken out. I know there are a few guys in the peloton who only have one kidney, such as Maarten Tjallingii, although of course it’s better to have two. But I don’t feel any affects at all.”
Helping Rigoberto Urán finish second place at the Giro highlighted the Dutchman’s ability as a domestique deluxe in the mountains. However, while his main goal is to fill this role for Froome at the Tour, Poels also hopes he will get the chance to ride for himself and add to his sole WorldTour victory on the Arrate in last year’s Tour of the Basque Country.
“I hope I can lead the team at some races, but we will have to see what my programme is for the season. If I ride more with Froome then he is, of course, is the leader and you have to support him. But there may well be other races where he won’t be part of the team and I will maybe be able to do my own thing.”