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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Taco van der Hoorn and the pursuit of aero

The Dutchman made headlines with his dramatic breakaway victory, but it almost never happened after he came close to retiring last year.

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Throughout the Giro d’Italia, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.

Ask most people who their favorite rider is and they’ll probably say something like Peter Sagan or Miguel Indurain.

Not Taco van der Hoorn.

The Dutch rider who stole fans’ hearts with his dramatic against-the-odds win in the first week of the Giro d’Italia used to have a poster of Graeme Obree – a two-time individual pursuit world champion who made his name with his innovative approach to riding and hour record attempts – on his wall.

Also read: Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Pieter Serry the farmer’s son

“I like that in his time he was maybe not the biggest talent if you compare it with maybe Chris Boardman, but he was a smart rider. He was always developing something, and he was interested in all the details of the aerodynamics,” van der Hoorn told VeloNews. “I think it’s nice he was not doing the things that everybody was doing, and he looked a bit outside the box.”

“He looked at how it was possible to progress if that was with aerodynamics, training, food, or something else. It’s nice to look in a different way, and try to make yourself better.”

Obree was best known for his successes in hour record, his “Old Faithful” bike made with parts from a washing machine, and his array of creative riding positions – possibly the most well-known of those was his subsequently banned “superman” position.

A little bit of the Flying Scotsman can be seen in van der Hoorn’s approach to racing, particularly his pursuit of aerodynamic gains. Van der Hoorn rides with narrower handlebars than most and ekes out a touch more aero gain by pushing his brake hoods inwards.

“I don’t really know him so I don’t think I can compare myself to Graeme Obree, but we both think that aerodynamics are an important thing,” van der Hoorn said. “I started using [the handlebars] already when I was in my first year as an under 23. The first time it is really strange, but after a week it is not strange at all.”

Also read: Taco van der Hoorn’s underdog win is what makes cycling great

“I’m happy that I’m one of the few using them. I think it is an advantage, so I’m happy with other guys to stay with the wider handlebars.”

When van der Hoorn unexpectedly won stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia, he utilized all of the aero advantages he could harness. From wearing a skinsuit and a helmet with taped-up vents, to his tucked-in riding style, aero bike, and narrow handlebars, few aspects had been left to chance.

Also read: Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Simon Pellaud the breakaway specialist

“Maybe I would have won the stage with less aero handlebars but maybe not, I don’t know,” he told VeloNews. “I think it will always help and it gives me the upper hand. On the flat, it is about aerodynamics, and if you can save energy for the key points then that it’s really important.”

“It’s not that it’s the biggest thing, it’s more about training and food and that kind of stuff, but it’s a detail that can make a difference.”

For the love of the bike

Taco Van der Hoorn couldn't believe he'd won at the Giro d'Italia
Taco van der Hoorn couldn’t believe he’d won at the Giro d’Italia Photo: Fabio Ferrari-Pool/Getty Images

Van der Hoorn spent four days responding to all the messages he received after taking his stage win. The victory was something of an allegory for his career, almost succumbing to the pack behind but finally persevering.

Twice he was nearly forced into retirement, but he held on. His first brush with retirement came in 2017 when a heavy fall during a cyclo-cross race resulted in a concussion that sidelined him for eight months.

Last season, he was again facing a future without racing when his contract at Jumbo-Visma ran out and no new team was forthcoming. His career was saved first by the Continental Beat Cycling team and then by Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert.

The ups and downs were tough for van der Hoorn, but what got him through was his love of riding his bike, no matter what.

Also read: Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Antoine Duchesne bouncing back from disappointment

“I just really like cycling, that’s the thing. I really like the sport, the training, and being with the team and spending each evening with the other riders,” van der Hoorn told VeloNews. “I like the whole cycling life, trying to be better every day and seeing what kind of details you can invest in to be better again. I really like to try to get the most out of my body and to be the best bike rider I can be.”

“I also enjoy being outside with nature and the beautiful environment. If I was a swimmer or something you could also progress and try to be the best you can be, but then you are always in the swimming pool. Training is also seven hours riding your bike in nature.”

As much as van der Hoorn enjoys riding his bike outside and focusing his attentions on the minutiae of aerodynamics, he also likes to spend time away from it. After completing a degree in Human Movement Science a few years ago, he is looking to take up studying again.

He has considered doing a Master’s degree in sport psychology, but plans to take a philosophy course later in the year and is reading, or at least trying to, a book on the subject that his friend gave to him ahead of the Giro d’Italia.

“I read quite a lot during the altitude camp and that was quite nice to do something outside of training, but here you’re so busy focusing on the race that I haven’t had time,” said van der Hoorn. “I am looking to do a course so that I can study again, but I can only start in September. I would like to do a course in Philosophy. It’s just a small course to do something else next to cycling.”

“It’s good to sometimes not focus on cycling. A lot of time, cycling is good but then it is also maybe a bit too much sometimes. It’s nice if you can have your thoughts on something else than only thinking about training, how you should do this or that.”

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