LEON, Spain (VN) – Thomas Dekker was once the golden boy of Dutch cycling. With a junior world title and accolades that came swift and early, Dekker was on the fast track to the top.
A controversial EPO positive in 2009, however, derailed his career and nearly sent him tumbling into oblivion.
Garmin-Sharp gave Dekker a chance, letting him ride the end of the 2011 season and then offering him a late-hour contract for 2012.
Still only 27, Dekker has paid back the confidence with a stage-win at the Circuit de la Sarthe earlier this season, though a bout with the flu kept him from being his best during the spring classics.
Dekker is making his first grand tour appearance since 2007 during the Vuelta a España.
Long gone are the days that people were hyping Dekker as a future grand tour winner. Now he’s happy to be back in the peloton and having a second chance at a career.
Older and wiser, Dekker vows he’s racing clean and says Garmin is the ideal team for him to mount his comeback.
VeloNews caught up with Dekker to see how he’s holding up in what’s been a very challenging Vuelta through nine days of racing:
VeloNews: This Vuelta started off with the wrong foot for Garmin with the crash in the TTT …
Thomas Dekker: It was not so nice. We are here with a young team and we big ambition to go well, but we crashed with four guys, so it’s hard for the motivation. I had some injuries, and for Talansky, who has some ambitions for the GC. I am here to help the team as much as possible. I am hoping to get better. I wasn’t sure for the Vuelta, but now that I am here, I want to do as best as I can.
VN: You suffered some nasty cuts and abrasions to your left side, what happened?
TD: When you crash at 60kph, with your heart rate almost at 190, it can be bad, but I am still young and I can heal pretty fast. Now I have no problems. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a grand tour, so I hope I can make the next step to suffer for three weeks. The heat is really incredible. I cannot remember racing in the heat like yesterday. I saw yesterday it was 43C. The stages are short, you can sleep well in the morning, I am happy to be here.
VN: This is your first grand tour since 2007, does that feel likea lifetime ago?
TD: In 2007, it’s a long, long time ago. It is almost a lifetime in cycling. I am suffering on the climbs. It was not easy. I did not have a special preparations. I hope that I am getting better. I am so happy just to be here. Last year, everything was not looking good, and now I am already back in a grand tour. I am happy. I will probably have some tough moments in the second and third weeks. I am looking forward to it. My longest race was Tour de Suisse. This is OK, because the stages are not so long.
VN: How well do you see Talansky going in this Vuelta?
TD: He had bad luck with the TTT, but how he is riding at Tour de l’Ain and now, he is really strong. He knows what he wants. He looks strong and the team is going to support him. The TT is 40km is good for him. It would be nice if he can finish 6-7, he’s still young. He has a big future.
VN: What are you ambitions for this Vuelta?
TD: I am looking to go into a breakaway in the second or third week. When there is an opportunity, you have to take it. No one wants to ride in this heat, so the big breakaways will go. There will be more space in the second half of the Vuelta.
VN: You were once hailed as a potential winner, do you still harbor those ambitions?
TD: I have to see what happens. I am happy to be back and I hope this grand tour makes me stronger. It’s impossible to train three weeks like this. Maybe I can see how this pays off in Lombardia and next year in the classics.
VN: Are in you in line for a spot for the worlds?
TD: I have to show something in the Vuelta, otherwise they do not bring me, it’s normal. It would be nice to ride there, especially in my home country. We will have a strong team.
VN: What’s your future with Garmin?
TD: My contract is finishing. We are talking. I hope to re-sign again. This is the best team for me.
VN: What has been the best part of your first full season since your comeback?
TD: The win was good. I had some problems in the spring, with the flu for a week when I was good. Just to be at Brabantse and Amstel, to be at the front, that was nice. It was too bad at the crash in Liege that I hurt my knee and I couldn’t go to the Giro. Ryder won and he would have won been nice to be there.