MENDE, France (VN) — Since his last top 10 performance at the Tour de France, Robert Gesink has broken his leg, had heart surgery, and taken time off to support his pregnant wife when she needed him. It all makes his 2015 Tour de France ride that much more impressive.
Ahead of the Alps, the last act in this year’s Tour before the race concludes in Paris on July 26, Gesink sits seventh overall. The Dutchman finished fourth overall in 2010, but considering everything that he has dealt with since, it is certainly an impressive performance so far.
“Robert’s a big fighter,” team LottoNL-Jumbo General Manager Richard Plugge told VeloNews. “No one is mentally as tough as he is in this peloton.”
Plugge stood in the shadow of LottoNL-Jumbo’s bus to avoid the heat — 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) — at the start in Rodez on Saturday. Gesink prepared inside for the stage ahead to Mende.
For Gesink to be in such a position, captaining the team in yellow and black with seven stages to race, he had to come a long way.
His father died mountain biking in 2010. He fractured his leg in 2011. He returned, but a heart problem nearly ended his career. In 2014, Gesink decided to undergo surgery and skipped the Tour as a result. On his comeback, he had to abandon the Vuelta a España after his pregnant wife needed surgery twice and was not improving. Despite early knee problems, the 2015 season appears to be on track.
He placed fifth overall in the Tour of California and ninth in the Tour de Suisse. When the Tour began at home in Utrecht, Gesink was one of two team captains with Wilco Kelderman. The situation changed quickly when Kelderman crashed on the way to Huy in day three, but Gesink proved ready to lead alone.
A brave attack up La Pierre-Saint-Martin made the general classification stars take notice, and moved him up the GC leaderboard. Despite a puncture at the base of the 15.8-kilometer climb and a mad chase, he defended his place well on the Plateau de Beille on Thursday.
“Of course you have your ups and downs, but he’s always fighting back and fighting, that’s Robert,” Plugge said of Gesink’s past years.
“His will to bounce back every time, that’s something that many other people can’t do. Other riders would have thrown in the towel if they had so much bad luck. He just fights and keeps fighting.”
Gesink counts a fourth place in the Tour and three top tens in the Vuelta. With the Alps ahead, he is in position to try something impressive. He told VeloNews he wants a stage win and wants to crack into the upper echelon of the GC. After surviving all that has been dealt to him so far in his career, anything looks possible.
“If there was a Robert Gesink rule book to survival,” Gesink said, “I wouldn’t hand it out because my rivals would know my secrets.”
The Tour continues with a couple of mid-mountain stages, before it enters the Alps and its final act Wednesday with a stage to Pra Loup. What is in store for Gesink is an unknown, but he has already put in a good fight.