This season may not have strictly gone to plan for Robert Gesink but after a morale boosting win in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, and a string of other impressive rides in the second half of the year, the Belkin leader believes that he is ready to challenge at the Tour de France next July.
At Belkin's training camp in Alicante this week, Gesink finalized his racing schedule for the coming season. Out goes the Giro d'Italia and in come the Tour of California and another shot at the Tour de France.
"I want to do the Tour of California and I'll try and be really good there. Then I'll stay there and train. Hopefully I'll win California but that's not an easy thing. It's not like I win 25 races a year and can just pick but I'll give it my best. I don't know how but I seem to do better on the other side of the ocean than here," he told Cyclingnews.
"But next year is a new challenge with new hopes and new goals and again I'd like to go for GC in the Tour de France."
California is a race in which the 27-year-old has already tasted success, with overall victory and a stage in 2012. The Tour has seen Gesink arguably reach higher achievements with sixth overall and second place in the white jersey competition in 2010. However, the race has also seen Gesink falter. Crashes and illness have marred two editions of the race for him, while in this year's race he was asked to ride in the services of Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam.
Gesink has long been on the radar as a grand tour rider of potential. As far back as 2008 he was a top ten rider in the Vuelta and he followed that up with another strong ride in Spain a year later. Yet it was the 2010 Tour de France that saw him cement his place as Holland's number one stage race rider. Two disappointing Tours followed and despite another top ten place in the 2012 Vuelta, Gesink has yet to fulfil the potential Holland first expected of him. Time remains on his side, and he is quick to remind Cyclingnews that his record still stands up against the majority of his rivals.
"If you look at the results, I've done things that people from Holland haven't done in the last thirty years. It's sport and at the highest level sometimes it works out how you want and sometimes it doesn't. That's just the way it is," he says.
Gesink has indeed finished in the top ten in nearly half the grand tours he has ridden. This season he lined up for the Giro d'Italia with high hopes of challenging for the maglia rosa and after the opening week skirmishes the Dutchman looked well in contention for at least finishing on the podium. However, illness struck in the final half of the race and he was forced to abandon.
A slot at the Tour opened up in July and he played an integral part of Belkin's ambitions of maintaining high overall places for Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam. The second half of the year saw Gesink returning to winning ways with a superb victory in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec backed up by top tens in Lombardia and the Tour of Beijing in October.
"I went with high expectations to the Giro and was in good shape after ten days. Then I got sick and it didn't work out as planned. From there it was hard to be on the highest level again at the Tour so I had a different role there. It was good to do that but it's not something I want to do too much in the future because I'm still only 27 and I think there are more possibilities for myself in the future," he told Cyclingnews.
"The last part of the season was perfect. I won in Quebec and was really strong in Montreal but maybe I just wanted it too much and wasn't that clever. Then in Lombardia I was top ten and the same in Beijing."
All going to plan Gesink and Mollema – sixth in this year year's Tour – will co-lead Belkin, while Ten Dam rides in support next year.
"It's the biggest race in cycling so I'll be there again to try and be there with the favourites."
"Bauke is now, as we've seen in the last few years, really improving. We're the same age but we've not ridden together too much in the last few years. We will be riding together more next year but I think it will work out."
Gesink believes that Mollema's progress in the last two seasons will not be stunted by his own ambitions and that the pair can complement each other in July.
"We're not the same as he's more to himself and I'm more talkative perhaps. When I think of something I'll say it and he's a bit different to that but I think we can work together. It's a good thing we're both there because in the Tour there are a lot of moments when you need good luck so it's probably better to go with two guys for GC. You never know what will happen in the first week, especially with the cobbles that will be in the first week."
"There's now a lot of those little guys, the Colombians riding uphill but I've become more mature as a rider. It's not like I can attack like the guys who are ten or twenty kilos lighter than me. But there are the cobbles and as we saw in the cross winds this year there are big differences and that's where you can decide the GC. That's why it's good to be on this team where we can work towards those stages."
Gesink is certainly not one to impose his palmares on those around him. Belkin, in its previous cover of Rabobank, had plenty of leaders with more alpha-male personalities but Gesink, who rose through the ranks in Holland's premier team, is a more assured and softly spoken leader.
"I'm not the guy who is that confident and will shout about what he's going to do. I never really feel like being that guy because I know that there's a lot of things that can happen. I know I can do top ten and maybe more is possible. That's the same for Bauke."
"There's a lot of respect for each other and we've helped each other before. We're both professional and honest and we've got a really strong support team behind us."
If there is one thing that does get under Gesink's skin it's the tag of a consistent faller. He has crashed in the past – all professional riders have – but the broken leg he suffered in 2011 came after a Tour in which he crashed too. The reputation soon stuck.
"Crashing is a part of cycling but there hasn't been that much so if I look back at the last year there wasn't a crash. No one talks about the fact I didn't have a bad fall for a year, they just look to what went wrong," he points out.
"Of course I had an accident and broke my leg in training but I've also won a lot of nice races. If I was a bad bike handler then it would be different but that's not the case. That's how it works sometimes, it's easy to understand someone if you put a label on them. If you get a few articles like that then you're pushed into a corner a bit but I think I've changed. I can remember Wiggins crashed out of the Tour in 2011 but I don't think people remember him as a guy who always crashed. Now they remember him as the guy who won a Tour and then he was the guy who couldn't even go through a corner.
Gesink believes that the cycling fraternity should be fairer in assessing the progress he has made since turning professional in 2007.
"I think people should look at the big picture and not just the one moment that didn't work out for a rider. I've done more than just crashing and I think that should be looked at. The funny thing is I don't think about it that much, it's not an issue. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't."
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