Wout Poels (Team Sky) can look back on the 2015 season with great pleasure after taking two victories and helping his teammate Chris Froome to his second Tour de France title. After what has been a breakthrough year for the Dutchman, he is looking for even more in 2016.
It’s been a long old season for Poels. After opening his racing account at the Tour of Oman in February, he was finally able to put his feet up following the Saitama Criterium at the end of October. The event in Japan, hosted by the Tour de France organisers, was a fun way to finish what was a largely successful season for the affable Dutchman – even if it ended with his teammate Ian Boswell having some fun at his jet-lagged expense.
Poels’ route to success has not been an easy one. In 2012, he crashed out of his second Tour de France in a mass pile-up into Metz which resulted in a three-week stay in hospital with ruptured kidney and spleen, a bruised lung, and three broken ribs. He worked hard and came back the following season and since then he has hinted at his underlying talent but 2015 is definitely his best year to date.
“It was really nice. I had my own success but then also with Chris [Froome] in the Tour. It was a nice experience to be a part of that," Poels told Cyclingnews. "I’m really happy with my first year with Team Sky, it’s been a great season. I think I made a big step this year and I hope that it can continue into next season.”
Poels was brought into Team Sky for 2015 to bolster Froome’s support network at the Tour de France. After three previous appearances where he was almost given a free rein to do as he wished, it would be the first time that he would be at the beck and call of the potential winner. The expectations were very different and the attention surrounding the team was more than he’d ever experienced.
He stepped up to the plate though and was ever present by his leader’s side, especially during the final week in the Alps where things could have so easily gone belly up for the team. There was other, less wanted, attention that had to be dealt with too but Poels – who always appears to be smiling – prefers to look on the brighter side of things.
“It was on another level to what I’m used to but I found it fun,” he said. “You have more pressure, but then it’s always really nice when you can always see the yellow jersey in the bus.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to win a Tour by myself – that is something not a lot of people can do. I also think that not many people can work with the Tour de France winner, so that is really amazing to do and if they appreciate it then it is even nicer to do.”
It wasn’t all about Froome for Poels this year; there were some opportunities for him to take his own chances. At the start of the season he put on a strong performance at Tirreno-Adriatico to take a stage win and put himself into the leader’s jersey. While the middle of the season was then dedicated to the goal of the Tour de France, he came good in the latter part of the year with a stage win at the Tour of Britain, just missing out on overall victory. Abu Dhabi reaped some reward too and, but for a final corner crash, he may have closed his season with a GC victory.
“The nicest thing in cycling is if you can go for yourself and win your own races because that’s why you become a rider," said Poels. "I was really happy that I was able to find a really good combination. I was able to work for the team but then in Tirreno and Abu Dhabi I was able to go for my own chances. So the combination was really good and that makes it fun and nice to race and to train hard. With the whole team in general, I am really happy that I made the move. I’m really enjoying it.”
Poels has finally earned some time off the bike and is able to enjoy the new home that he’s moved into recently. He’ll begin training once again at the end of November when his thoughts will turn to the 2016 season that lies ahead. Poels will once again perform a key role in Froome’s Grand Tour set-up but he is looking to take his own opportunities again.
Finer details will be plotted when the team meet for their December training camp but he already has his eyes set on a few targets of his own, including a trip to Rio. “I really want to go to the Olympics,” Poels told Cyclingnews. “We only have four riders in the Netherlands that can go so it will be really busy to fight for the last spots but I think that the parcours should be really good for me. It is really hard and normally that is perfect for me. I’m going to try. If you don’t try then you never go.
“Maybe Tirreno again, I always really like that race and races like that. It also depends a little bit on the programme for the Tour and what they put us on. I think [the Tour de France] is really nice. There are some really good, big climbs that will be nice to do. I think for Chris, with the time trials, it really fits quite well.”