Thomas Dekker is hoping to make up for his past mistakes when he lines up at the Tour of Portugal in the colours of the Chipotle team. The Dutchman will ride his first stage race since serving a two year suspension for taking EPO.
"I'm super excited to be back at a stage race again. Of course I'm also nervous and stressed, but in a good way," he told Cyclingnews.
"I just want to finish the race good. The Tour of Portugal is a super hard race, I will suffer for sure. But that's good. I want to make steps in my race condition and I want to enjoy being back racing on such a level. For the rest I just take it how it comes."
According to Dekker there was only one team that has wanted to join since beginning his rehabilitation, although it must be stressed that even though he will ride for Chipotle in Portugal, it is only a small step towards finding a possible slot on Chipotle's senior team, Garmin-Cervélo.
"Since January 2010 I have always had the goal to make a comeback with Jonathan Vaughters' team. I am not there yet, but I am on the right path. It's a long path, with tests, commitments and now a place in their 'second team'. I learned from my mistakes, coming back with the clean team will be the ultimate victory for myself and the perfect fit from rider perspective. Other teams informed, there was interest. But we never turned it into something concrete, because I have chosen to try to make my comeback under Vaughters' wing. I follow the difficult path, but I feel I need to do that for my future as rider, but also as a person."
Vaughters first met with Dekker at the end of the 2008 Tour de France, before Dekker was caught through the UCI's retrospective testing. The meeting between the two came to nothing and he signed for Lotto instead. Since this spring he has undergone numerous tests, sending the data to Vaughters to analyse, and while the American has been cautious, this latest step is by far the most significant in any possible move towards Garmin's pro ranks.
Dekker has already volunteered to help WADA with any questions they have over his past – something Vaughters pushed for, and according to the rider, part of his comeback will be judged on the impression and lessons he can pass on to others.
"Next to my own focus, I also look forward to explaining my own story to the riders. To warn them of the dangerous aspects of a young career. I feel it as a responsibility to tell them."
While admitting that he has turned a corner in his life, Dekker also told Cyclingnews that battling his past and coming back had been a much tougher experience than he thought it would be, but that it has made him stronger.
"I had no idea how hard it would be, but I couldn't imagine it would be so hard. It has been one long learning process. It made me a much stronger person and it made me appreciate cycling incredibly.
"The hardest bit was not being part of a team. I have a great trainer (Adrie van Diemen) super material, but I missed the team. The atmosphere, the fun, the focus. So you can imagine I am super happy to be part of something again. Hopefully I found a place for the coming years."