GOURETTE, France (VN) — For a natural-born climber, Robert Gesink (LottoNL – Jumbo) has had more downs than ups. A series of crashes and health problems, including heart surgery in 2014, almost stopped him in his tracks more than a few times.
But Gesink has always bounces back, and Saturday, the big, gangly Dutch climber finally won something that has eluded him throughout his racing career: a grand tour stage victory.
“This something I have been fighting for for a long time,” a happy Gesink said at the line. “I am usually racing for GC, so this time I have the freedom to race for stage wins. It’s a very nice feeling.”
The victory is sweet redemption for the 30-year-old Dutchman. Gesink has battled through tough times since he burst onto the scene with several strong showings in both stage races and one-day events as a youngster.
His father died in a bicycle accident in October of 2010. Bad crashes in 2011 and 2012 derailed much of those seasons, and he had to undergo heart surgery in 2014. After finishing sixth in the 2015 Tour de France, he missed this year’s race after suffering a bad concussion at the Tour de Suisse.
“I had a lot of ups and downs, I cannot choose which one is the [worst],” Gesink said. “To win a stage is really special, to finally win a stage in a grand is something I wanted to do for such a long time. I feel healthy, I feel good.”
Those lows were always countered by consistency and doggedness in the grand tours, highlighted by three top 10 finishes at the Tour de France.
But that steadiness often meant he could never simply ride for stage victories. Whenever he attacks at the Tour, he is a GC threat, so others follow. After missing the Tour this year, he came to the Vuelta with different ambitions.
“This is really special, I’ve had a hard year. I crashed in the Suisse before the Tour, and had a concussion, and could not train for a long time,” Gesink said. “So it was no GC for the Vuelta, but what I wanted to do for a long time was ride for stage wins, so I was glad I could do it.”
Just days after finishing second to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) at Lagos de Covadonga, Gesink attacked out of a big breakaway group to win the queen stage at the Vuelta in the four-climb stage across the French Pyrenees. He attacked late, adding that his legs were cramping so badly in the finale he could not sit down in the saddle.
Despite flirting with a different style of racing, Gesink said he will be back to flogging in the GC next season.
“I always have the role to ride for GC on this team. I like that role. I am a real GC rider,” Gesink said. “I am just good. I don’t have really good days or really bad days. I wanted to this a long time now, to focus just on stages. I will focus on GC again in the future. To win the stages is also a very good feeling also, so I might just try that again.”