In what should be a great season for sprinting, with Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar and the resurgent Alessandro Petacchi among many, there’s one name that’s often overlooked: Theo Bos.
The former Dutch track star had a bumpy inaugural year on the road last season, marred by his controversial crash at the Tour of Turkey with race leader Daryl Impey.
Despite the unwanted attention, Bos quietly notched a half dozen victories in his transition year from the track to the road and many believe he could be the big surprise of the 2010 season if he continues to progress like he did in 2009.
“I know my sprint is still very good. I have to work on the foundation,” Bos told VeloNews. “I am still not close to the top. I hope I can get to the top this season or next.”
For 2010, the 26-year-old Bos switched from Rabobank to Cervélo TestTeam, where he hopes the team’s stronger sprint presence will give him the space and time he needs to continue to find his way in the bunch sprints.
On Wednesday in the Tour of Qatar, Bos opened up the sprint, but slightly mistimed his effort as Francesco Chicchi and two others came around him right before the line.
Bos’s 2009 season was overshadowed by the Turkey incident, however, and he’s keen to put the controversy behind him. Bos was later suspended for one month by the UCI.
He was vilified for taking his hands off the handlebars, something everyone agrees a rider should never do in a bunch sprint. But Bos’s instincts came from the track, where he raced without brakes and pushing and shoving were part of the game of survival on the boards.
“It’s a closed book. That’s it,” Bos says without elaborating. “I want to continue to look forward to the future and not looking back. I’ve had contact with (Daryl) Impey, but it’s a closed book for him as well.”
Switch to Cervélo
Bos switched from Rabobank to Cervélo ─ where he is making his season debut this week at the Tour of Qatar ─ because he believes the team is more focused on sprinting.
“It was a very difficult decision. Rabobank was very well-organized and I was really happy at the team. I had improved in my first season on the road and they were a sponsor of mine on the track. It was the safe place to stay,” he said. “I came to Cervélo for sporting reasons. I think I can become a better sprinter on this team.”
One of the top draws in his move to Cervélo is the team’s solid sprint base. Lead sport director Jean-Paul van Poppel was a former green jersey winner and top sprinter and riders such as Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler provide solid role models.
He’ll get chances to prove himself in such early season races as Ghent-Wevelgem and Sheldeprijs.
“(Van Poppel) is one of the main reasons I chose this team. He’s so experienced and he won so many races. It will be great to work with him,” he said. “This team has a sprint program. Rabobank had (Oscar) Freire, but not really focused on sprinting.”
Bumpy transition road
While much was made last year of Bradley Wiggins’ fourth-place ride at the Tour de France, his transition to the road was much smoother than Bos’s is proving to be. As an endurance specialist on the track, Wiggins, who had already raced several seasons on the road, had the necessary core fitness needed to compete successfully on the road.
As a track sprinter, Bos was built more like a football player than a skinny road racer. The 6-foot Dutchman was accustomed to the short, intense bursts of speed on the track. The hard part was getting through the preceding four to five hours of racing, and then fighting for position to even have a shot at victory.
“I can deliver high watts and a high cadence in the sprint on the track, but on the road, I have to have high watts at a lower cadence,” he said. “I have to have a team around me to do this. I have to become more of an all-round rider. I can still be fast in the sprints.”
Bos’s trial by fire last year began at the Volta ao Algarve in February, when he realized just how hard it was going to be to transition from always turning left on the track to bumping elbows in the sprints. He abandoned in the third stage.
“That was the hardest race. I realized how far I had to go. I didn’t know what to expect and I wanted to come in blank,” he said. “I had to set my mind to race like a road racer and not like a track racer. That was the most important thing.”
Bos did manage a few victories in his debut road season, including four stages at the Olympia Tour in May.
“I started feeling better midway through the season,” he said. “My goals last year were to keep improving, rather than to try to aim for specific goals. Any win was a good one for me last year.”
Reducing his body weight and improving his resistance to survive the longer distances on the road without losing his power and speed is Bos’s main challenge. Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins said the slimmed-down Bos looks great on the bike, “like he has always been a road rider.”
Bos said his peak power output on the track was 2,000 watts in the sprints. He says he’s been able to produce up to 1,800 watts in training and 1,500 watts in a real sprint at the end of a long race.
Upping those numbers as he builds strength and resistance will only help his chances of winning.
“On the track, you sprint for 300 meters. On the road, everyone is already so exhausted before the sprint even begins. And the fight for the sprint begins 30km before the finish,” he said. “My speed is still good. The hard part for me is to get in position to sprint. I have to keep working to be fresher for the sprint.”
New challenges on the road
One question is why did Bos leave the track in the first place? He was king of the boards, a winner of about every major honor except an Olympic gold medal. He could have continued to race the track and make a comfortable living.
“The track didn’t hold any secrets for me. The only thing I couldn’t win was an Olympic gold medal. To try again, I would have had to wait another four years (until London 2012),” he said. “It was the right time to make the decision to switch to the road. I always wanted to try the road and I am still young enough to have a good chance.”
He raced some track over the winter for fitness, but his commitment now is on the road and Bos discounts a return to the boards in time for a run at the gold medal in 2012.
And what does Bos think of the sprinter of reference, Mark Cavendish? If Bos ever wants to truly challenge in the sprints, he will eventually have to face off against the British speedster who also raced extensively on the track before blossoming into the best sprinter of his generation.
“I hope to challenge him in the future, but now he can beat me with one leg,” Bos says. “He’s unbelievable. I knew him a little bit in 2004-05 when he was racing on the track. I never expected he would be so good.”
Bos is quietly hoping he can do the same thing.