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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.
Hofstede was an instrumental part of Roglič’s 2019 and 2020 Vuelta titles, and could have made the difference between a red jersey and bitter disappointment for his leader at last year’s race. With Roglič suffering under an onslaught of attacks from his closest rivals on the penultimate stage to La Covatilla, the Dutchman dropped back from the break and buried himself in his leader’s service.
Hofstede’s last-gasp pull limited the damage and did enough to seal a narrow GC victory for Roglič and Jumbo-Visma.
- Hofstede saves the day for Roglič at La Covatilla
- Unsung heroes: Antonio Nibali on life as ‘baby shark’
It was an all-or-nothing act of professional selflessness.
But there was likely something very personal on Hofstede’s mind in those minutes of blurry-eyed, burning-legged effort – his brother’s half-wheeling antics when they trained together as juniors.
“We were competitive in everything against each other when we were kids,” Hofstede told VeloNews of his elder sibling. “I would even say without my brother I wouldn’t be professional.”
Hofstede spent his youth training and racing alongside his brother Koen. Like any two siblings, there was a fearsome friendly rivalry.
“There were nearly arguments and fights sometimes,” Hofstede said in a call shortly before he joined teammates in Burgos.
“If we were training together, someone would half-wheel the other guy. Or if I want to train alone, he would ride 20 meters behind me for the whole ride, things like that. We were always trying to find each other’s limits in all different kinds of ways.”
“I think about those times sometimes when I’m pulling in a race,” he joked.
The Hofstede brothers still train together some 15 years after their days racing on their learner-bikes. Only now, Lennard is 26-years-old and riding a Jumbo-Visma-issue Cervélo, and Koen is 28 and on an ex-Team Sky Pinarello that his brother acquired for him.
“He’s still really strong and trains a lot. Sometimes when I have a longer ride, he comes over from his house and we still train together for hours. Sometimes he’s on my wheel for five hours, but when he’s in a better shape he comes next to me,” Hofstede said.
“He knows not to half-wheel or try to race me now though – the difference is too high. But yeah, maybe it was his half-wheeling that made me stronger than him in the first place.”
It’s hard not to imagine the fraternal smile of satisfaction.
Out of the spotlight, out of social media
Hofstede is your template unsung hero, a powerful rouleur that pulls through the flatlands in the opening hours of a race. The rangy Dutchman is currently almost 90 minutes down on GC after helping put the motor into Jumbo-Visma’s GC effort for the past nine stages.
Unlike Sepp Kuss, Steven Kruijswijk, and the rest of Jumbo-Visma’s climbing crew, the workhorse Hofstede goes ignored by commentators and overlooked by fans. But that’s fine for a racer so happy in the shadows that he recently abandoned social media.
“For me, it’s OK that I don’t get as much recognition as some of my team,” he said. “These guys also have more pressure and more people wanting things from them, and I always get the recognition from within my team. They let me know that I don’t have to be in the big spotlight, and this is OK for me.
“I’m just happy being on the winning team – not many can experience that. It’s like you’re winning yourself.”
Unlike many of his teammates and rivals, Hofstede doesn’t boast an Instagram profile packed full of gritty images of mid-race suffering, choreographed photos of coffee stop flat whites, or celebration scenes of Jumbo-Visma parading into the 2020 red jersey.
Just like Hofstede is content being out of race photographers’ frames, he’s happy to avoid the noise of social media.
“I was on holiday last winter, and I didn’t use my phone for one week. And then I liked it so much. And then the next step for me was to delete more of my social media accounts and actually I don’t miss it at all,” he said.
“I noticed that it takes a lot of time and energy from you, being on social media, and I don’t think it gives you much back. It takes a lot from your (mental) battery during the day. And as I see it, you want to live the life in the moment, and when you’re in the moment, it’s more fun.”
“Also if I think about racing, if you can be in the moment and be focused to the maximum, that’s where the nice results come from.”
Hofstede was certainly “in the moment” when he saved red for Roglič last year.
But there were perhaps a few flashbacks to when he was trying to drop his persistent elder brother in their races over a dozen years ago.