Kenny van Hummel is looking forward to making his return to the peloton on Thursday for the first time since being forced to abandon his debut Tour de France last month. The Skil-Shimano sprinter told Cyclingnews that his recovery from the crash has been slow, but he expects the experience gained at the Grand Tour will provide the next big step in his career.
"Normally I recover from injuries really fast, but at the moment it's going slow," said van Hummel. "But now I can start my training again and today I will do my first criterium since the Tour."
Van Hummel suffered a severe laceration to his knee on July 22 after a crash on the Col de Saises that required nine stitches. He said he expects to race in the Profronde van Oostvoorne, a Dutch criterium, on Thursday afternoon.
During the Tour de France van Hummel became a hero for spectators. In particular, it was the traditionally Rabobank-oriented Dutch fans getting behind the 26-year-old. While he hasn't raced since the Tour, his new found celebrity status has seen van Hummel involved with the traditional post-Tour criteriums.
"I did fire the gun for the guys at some criteriums," he said. "A lot of people know me now in Holland. So when I came back to the airport in Amsterdam after the Tour there were a lot of cameras, journalists and fans. That was all new for me. That all changed [during the Tour]."
Van Hummel's daily battles with the Tour's daily time cuts in the mountain stages were one of the most endearing images of the race. He says climbing at the Tour was a completely new experience for him, but one that he was grateful for.
"I missed some horsepower this year. I know what I have to do for next year. It was the first time for me that I was riding in the real hills so it was a new experience, it was heavy, but I was fighting every day and made it to the finish inside the time limit every time. I know that I have to do some more climbing on the hills. I think with this experience I will be stronger."
Van Hummel, who has won five races this season, said Skil-Shimano had taken him to the Tour in order to build experience and did not place too much pressure on him to achieve results. He finished seventh on stage 10 to Issoudun, but with his teammates often exhausted in their efforts to make breakaways he was often left to his own devices in the sprints.
"I didn't do a lot of sprints in the Tour, I think only three or four; the level was high," he said. "You need a really strong team in the Tour otherwise you don't race for first place. The team took me to the Tour to get some experience so that was the most important thing. It was not important to get a result. The tactic of the team was to go on the attack so they took a lot of guys who were good to get in breakaways. It was not a team for leading out a sprinter.
"Of course whenever I sprint I want to have a good result but I didn't have the team [at the Tour]. Normally this year I have ridden for the victory. I've won five sprints this year and every time I had the same teammates to do the lead out for me, but they weren't at the Tour."
Having recently extended his contract and with the Tour de France starting in The Netherlands next year van Hummel hopes to be part of a Skil-Shimano Tour team better suited to his strengths. He feels the Team performed strongly at this year's race and looks forward to racing again next year.
"Next year will be different. Next year we have the start in Rotterdam so I've got the experience now and I will be one year stronger. I hope the team will be confident to take two or three riders to help lead me out.
We were in the breakaways the whole race and showed ourselves. I think we did a good performance this year so I hope they will give us a wildcard invitation to the Tour next year."
Skil-Shimano's chances of starting next year's Tour de France will get a significant boost if they are successful in their current bid to attain ProTour status. Even if the team does join the the ProTour Van Hummel says he doesn't expect too much change for him as a rider.
"First I heard of it [the application for ProTour licence] was from the media and then I called the manager and he told me he'd been in Switzerland to meet with the UCI. They are still talking, so next year we may be a ProTour team, but it's not decided yet," he said.
"I think it will be the same team, maybe a little bit bigger with some more riders but I think it won't change much more than that."
Van Hummel's immediate priority will be to defend his lead in the International Cycling Union's (UCI) Europe Tour. He wears the white leader's jersey and is 137 points ahead of Italian Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes).
"I will start in ENECO Tour of Benelux. I am the leader in the UCI Europe Tour so I would like to go for all the Belgian races and I can get a lot of points in those sorts of races. I will go for the Europe Tour jersey, I think it is important to win for both [me and the team].
"I want to show myself in the last races of the season. After the ENECO Tour I want to be in good shape for the smaller Belgian races so maybe I can win a few of them."