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Throughout the Vuelta a España, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders who battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.
For a professional cyclist, Jetse Bol has spent a lot of time thinking about language.
The Dutchman first became cognizant of it when he was riding for the Rabobank WorldTour team in the early 2010s. Although the squad had an international roster, Dutch was the predominant language. He saw the foreigners on his team struggling because of it.
“Team meetings of course are in English, but the rest of the day they’re quite left out,” Bol said. “If six out of eight riders speak Dutch, they’ll end up speaking Dutch. It has nothing to do with excluding people, we made an effort as well, but that’s the way it is.”
Now, Bol rides for the Spanish squad Burgos-BH, where, even during team meetings, no one breaks into English on his behalf.
“And I don’t want that,” Bol told VeloNews. “I chose to join them. It’s my responsibility to be a part of them rather than they have to change for me. You know what you signed for so you can’t expect them to change for you. Of course, over the years I’ve had a couple of teammates who spoke English very well, but let’s say 90 percent of the time I speak in Spanish.”
‘Because of cycling, I was forced to learn it’
Like many professional cyclists, Bol makes Girona, Spain his home base. Although the 32-year-old has lived in the Catalonian city since 2014 with his wife, who is Mexican, he admits there were a variety of reasons he felt unmotivated to learn Spanish.
“Girona is so international and also very Catalan,” Bol said, “So picking up Spanish there was not really happening. Everyone around us was speaking English.”
It wasn’t until Bol joined Colombian Pro Continental squad Manzana-Postobon in 2017 that he finally found a razón to tackle the Spanish language. The team made a bold move that year, stepping up to the pro ranks. As it attempted to pack its roster with European pros who had experience, riders from Spain became a natural fit, primarily due to the common language.
And then there was Bol. After nine years riding for Netherlands-based teams, Bol was offered a contract with the team and became the little fish in a big pond, language-wise. Yet, never once did he expect his new teammates to accommodate him by speaking English on his behalf.
“There was a really big motivation for me — OK, I chose to ride for this team, I need to make an effort,” Bol said. “Also, my manager told me, no one speaks English. And literally, that was true. I could scream on the bus ‘hey who wants free money?’ and no one would blink an eye.”
Based on the tip of his new manager, Bol started studying Spanish after he was signed in the summer of 2016 so that when the season started he would have a head start. “Then, my Spanish was very basic,” he said, “but I made an effort, I was motivated, studying every day.”
Then, when it came time for Bol’s first team training camp in Medellín in January of 2017, he went from the textbook to full immersion — every conversation was en Español, every single day.
“It was hard in the beginning,” he said, “but when you’re forced you figure it out.”
Bol’s fluency in Spanish solidified during his three years with Manzana-Postobon, and now, he said, “my Spanish is good enough to do anything.”
Bol on Burgos
Now, in his third year with Spanish squad Burgos-BH, Bol’s command of the language not only allows him to communicate but it’s served to deepen his connection to the team. In particular, Bol can see the Vuelta a España through the lens of the Spaniards on his team.
“Last year the Vuelta was supposed to start in the Netherlands, which was a big deal for me,” Bol said. “For me as a Dutchman that was a once in a career possibility to start in my own country. So I see for my teammates what a big deal it is. I’ve done the Giro once, and there we’re just preparing for a grand tour, where here it has much more meaning.”
While Bol knows that his connection to the Vuelta is different than those of his Spanish teammates, he doesn’t feel excluded or distant training and racing with the Spanish squad, even at a deeper cultural level.
“At Burgos, I feel really part of the boys,” he said. “Culturally, of course, there are some differences, but not a lot. I had to get used to late dinners. The late sleeping. But that’s minor things, which you can adjust to well. In the end, the cultural differences between the Dutch and Spanish are a lot smaller than between countries all over the world.”
Bol’s command of the Spanish language and consequent intimacy with the culture of his Colombian and Spanish teammates is a silver lining in a career that hasn’t always gone the way he anticipated.
Although he rose to the WorldTour ranks a decade ago, Bol feels he’s now firmly ensconced in the pro continental ranks.
“When I joined the WorldTour for some reason, it never came out what I had in me,” he said. “I raced three years as a domestique filling up the last spots in the lineups and then I made a step back to Conti. Although it was a step back it was really important to me, it made me realize riding my bike is what I like the most. Since I’ve had the opportunity to step back up to the pro ranks, I’ve tried to make the best of it.”
It’s so important to note that Bol is making the best of it almost entirely in a foreign language.