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By Andrew Hood
A handful of Dutch reporters made the trip down to Portugal last week for the Volta ao Algarve, a small race that typically doesn’t attract much attention from the international press.
This year was different because Theo Bos – the five-time world champion on the track – made his debut on the road with the Rabobank continental team.
A victory in a small criterium on Feb. 15 made front-page news in the Dutch papers, but Bos had a tougher time in the hilly Algarve course against a tougher field. He abandoned in the fourth stage that featured a second-category summit finish.
Bos was king of the boards, winning just about everything on the velodrome except an Olympic gold medal. He mined silver in Athens in 2004 in the sprint, but fell short of the medals in Beijing when he was the top favorite for gold.
Looking for a new challenge, Bos decided the time was right to try to carve out a place on the road.
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood spoke with Bos the morning before he abandoned. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: Why did you make the decision to switch from racing on the track to try the road?
Theo Bos: I just wanted to do something else. If you wanted to try to go on the road, now is the time. I am 25 years old. If I waited more, it would probably too late. It’s very hard race here in Algarve. I won a race Sunday here, that was good, but it was a small race. I need to improve step by step. Coming into this race, it’s hard because it’s a difficult course. There are a lot of climbs. There are a lot of big riders, so for me, this is a very difficult race. I hope I can finish the race, that’s my goal here.
VN: How much have you raced on the road before?
TB: This is the first time! The last time I raced was even before juniors. When I was junior, I already started to race the track. It was only the track since then.
VN: Did you make the decision to try the road after things didn’t work out in Beijing?
TB: I was thinking about it a long time. I won everything on the track, except for a gold medal, and I have to wait four years to try to win a gold medal. That’s too long. Everything else I would win on the track, it wouldn’t be satisfying. I wanted to have a different goal in my life and now it’s road cycling.
VN: Will you return to the track to try to win gold in London in 2012?
TB: I will just see what happens on the road. Hopefully, I will be improving step and step and it keeps this way. I am just starting this now.
VN: What’s the biggest change you’ve had to make so far?
TB: I have lost a lot of weight. It’s totally different muscles. My weight now is 78 kilos. I have come down from 85 kilos. I’ve lost a lot of weight from upper body. I did a lot of training before and I think I need a lot of competition to improve myself.
VN: When do you expect to be competitive?
TB: I give myself to the end of the year. Hopefully, at the end of the year I can finish the races more easy and can be competitive for victory. I want to be in the sprints. At the end of the year, hopefully I can do some mass sprints.
VN: How is the pressure different, coming from the track when you were expected to win every day, to the road, where no one expects you to win?
TB: That’s a good thing, even some people here expect me to win, but that’s not going to happen for a while. I just want to learn here and I want to learn this year. I need these races to become better. It’s very difficult. It’s very different mentally. Here, I am not thinking about victory, just thinking about finishing the race. It’s a change in your head as well. It’s a good challenge and something different.
VN: Is this style of racing more fun than the track?
TB: It’s good fun. It’s going well. I’ve already improved a lot in training. I’ve made it to the third stage of the Algarve and it is almost a victory for me. It’s really refreshing. I have a nice team and I am enjoying everything here. I will be with the continental team for the first half of the season.
VN: Not a lot of track sprinters have transitioned to the road. Marty Nothstein raced on the road in the United States, but not at the highest levels in Europe, how challenging is that?
TB: No one has done it before, so it’s a big challenge. It’s unique in that way. I just want to give it a try and see what happens. At least I can say when my career is finished I gave it a good try. It happened or didn’t happen, it’s good to try.
VN: What’s been the hardest part so far?
TB: The climbs are the hardest part, without a doubt. The climbs I find very hard. Some climbs I begin in the front and let myself drop to the back. Sometimes I finish in the cars and then I can come back. It’s really difficult. It’s the hardest part for me and I have to learn this.
VN: How will your track experience help you?
TB: I have good leg speed. Yesterday was a high-speed final, but I had a puncture in the final 20km and couldn’t come back. In the high-speed finals, that’s the best for me and my leg speed will help me a lot.