I never quit, I never give up, especially in the Tour. It’s part of me.
In 2011, I fell on the descent of the Col d’Agnes in the Pyrenees. Suddenly, I was in the ditch by the side of the road, on my nose. I finished the stage with a bandage across my face. We climbed Plateau de Beille and I knew from the reaction of the crowd that I looked like shit. When we finished, the doctor took me to the hospital and I just needed a few stitches, so not so bad. Like my wife said: ‘You don’t quit the Tour because of a split lip’.
In 2015, when the Tour was in the Ardennes, there was a big crash, with the peloton doing 80kph. I fell and dislocated my shoulder. The doctor put it back in by the side of the road. I thought: ‘I’ve trained so hard for this, I’m not going to quit 60km from my house’. I carried on and I have happy memories of being able to finish that Tour.
No one likes crashing, suffering, hurting, but maybe I get on with it better than others. I’m maybe more cautious than when I was younger. But when the race is on, you have to follow the guys who are racing. You can’t touch your brakes.
I turned pro with Bankgiroloterij in 2004. We had our first training camp in Australia before Tour Down Under and got our new bikes a few days before the race. You got the bike, set it somewhere close to your size and started racing. Now, I get my road bike in October and I have a time trial bike at home to train on; back then I only saw my TT bike when they pulled it out of the truck at the first race.
The clothing was very different; I remember my first year I was racing somewhere in Germany in the rain and I was so cold I ended up wearing a normal outdoor coat they passed me out of the car. Imagine that now; a rider racing in the jacket the sports director walks his dog in. Maybe not, eh? I would get perhaps five pairs of shorts to last the season. At Team Sunweb, who have a great sponsor in Etxeondo, I might get 25; for hot days, cold days, all different fabrics.
The Tour Down Under was quite relaxed then, before the World Tour. We would race for an hour, then 30 guys went away and if you weren’t in the 30 guys going for the win you rode back in twos talking about where you were going to have a beer that evening. No one does that now. There are no ‘easy’ races anymore.
In my first two seasons, we didn’t get any coaching from the team. It was just ‘train however you want’, as long as you show up ready to race. In my first year, we went to Mallorca to train and I learned to do those long, long rides, much longer than we do now. Six, seven hours, day after day, but without much intensity. I remember my first week there, we did 36 hours in the saddle. I did the third day of the Challenge Mallorca, which is a race you can dip in and out of, and in the two days before I’d done 12 hours. That would be totally different now, but back then the philosophy was to toughen the neo pros up a little bit; you know, harden the fuck up.
Sometimes it was more fun; if I went training and spent three hours in a cafe, no one would know, because there were no power files to upload every day. There was more responsibility on the rider. Everyone trained their asses off, just on feeling. Some had a good feeling, and those were the good riders, some didn’t have that feeling, or maybe less of a work ethic, and they were the domestiques. Now, everyone is coached like the top riders; all the power data, the sports science, the nutrition and the level has risen across the peloton. A lot has changed in 15 years.
I’ve never had to motivate myself to go and ride and that’s been the key to a long career. It all started with a love for biking; I just loved riding, loved exploring, so training has never been an issue for me. And I have always loved the racing, being on the road with the boys.
It’s good to be focused, but not too focused. At home, I do my riding, I do my stretching and I put everything in my training log; then I close the laptop, the working day is finished and I enjoy time with the kids and maybe a beer. It’s not always been like that. There were times when I had a goal, maybe not reached it and looked back and thought ‘Did I enjoy the journey?’. Now, I enjoy life rather than trying to be like a monk or just resting all the time, doing what people think cyclists should do. Doing nothing, that’s not for me.
It’s not just a job. A lot of the fun in my life is still based around cycling. I went to Barcelona to watch the Red Hook Crit, just to see how fast they go on those fixies. And I still love riding; road, gravel, mountain bike, track. Maybe not BMX though, I’m not so good at that.
I’ve had some nice results in my career, but winning big races with the boys, as a team, is a special feeling. Those are some of my proudest moments. To win two sprint stages in the 2017 Tour with Michael Matthews, when they really were wins for the whole team, and to have the rest of the bunch compliment us on how we raced, is great. In the Giro, when Tom Dumoulin won, the other riders were telling us how well we controlled the race, even though we had just seven guys left in the end. To see everyone stand up, do their job and lift their level to 100 per cent was really nice, especially as I was the road captain in those races.
I had the same feeling in 2009 at Rabobank when Denis Menchov won the Giro; we didn’t have the strongest team at that race, but we managed to pull it off because everyone contributed. Leadership has always come naturally to me; even in 2009, I was accepted as a guy who could make decisions on the road. With more experience, it comes even more easily. With Tom, we know each other so well we don’t have to talk too much; just one or two words is enough.
2017 - 2018
Team Giant - Alpecin
Team LottoNL - Jumbo
Belkin Pro Cycling Team
2013 - 2014
2008 - 2012
2006 - 2008
Shimano - Memory Corp
Rabobank Continental Team
Tour de France
9th GC - 2014
13th GC - 2013
Vuelta a España
8th GC - 2012
Tour de Suisse
8th GC - 2011
Tour Down Under
5th GC - 2011
Stage 1 / 1st - 2008