LAGOA, Portugal (VN) — Theo Bos (Blanco) closed the circle Friday by kicking to victory in the second stage of the Volta ao Algarve, on the same roads that saw him abandon in his much-hyped road debut four years ago.
The former track star has come a long way since the 2009 season, when he put the comforts and success of being the king of the boards behind him to take on the unknown challenges of racing on pavement.
By his own admission, it hasn’t been easy and the wins haven’t come as often or as quickly as many had hoped. The hills always seemed bigger and the peloton a touch too chaotic, but Bos never gave up.
The 29-year-old Dutchman got just rewards of sorts Friday with victory in an intense sprint at the end of a lumpy 195km stage that included a second-category climb up the steep hills at Monchique.
“I was thinking about that today,” Bos recounted to VeloNews on how he abandoned here four years ago. “It was on the same roads in 2009 that I realized I had a long way to go before I could think of winning on the road.
“I was still suffering today. I always suffer on the hills. But I made it through and it’s very satisfying to win today.”
After the 2008 Olympic Games, Bos walked away from a lucrative track racing career despite being one of the best ever on the boards. A multiple world champion in sprint, kilo and keirin, the tall Dutchman always wanted to race on the road, and realized it was now or never.
“I could have just kept racing track, because I was very good and it would have been the easy way to go,” Bos said. “I really wanted to race on the road. It’s been very hard. I know I am not as successful as if I had stayed on the track. It’s been worth it. I have no regrets.”
The 2009 Volta ao Algarve marked Bos’s first real road race and nearly the entire Dutch press corps showed up to document his debut.
It didn’t last long. Bos struggled to keep pace over the steep, rolling hills of the Algarve and abandoned during the fourth stage, on the very same roads that Friday’s stage crossed.
That day, Bos was spotted riding alone across the hills to get back to the team hotel down on the Algarve coast. Four years later, he was back, but there wasn’t one Dutch journalist on hand to witness his victory Friday.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was favored to win, but Bos said the Manxster had trouble changing his gear with about 300 meters to go.
Third on Thursday, Bos dusted the field with a blistering surge with 125 meters to go that gapped everyone and put him into the leader’s jersey, inherited from teammate Dave Martens, who won Thursday with an attack in the final kilometer.
“It was a hard sprint. I was fighting to stay on Mark’s wheel over that last climb,” Bos said, referring to a roller in the closing kilometers.
“I heard Mark’s chain go ‘gronk, gronk’ with about 300 meters to go and it seemed like he couldn’t drop his gear. I came into the last roundabout in perfect position and I saw the finish line and just went as hard as I could. It’s a great feeling to win.”
Coming into his fourth road season, Bos has completed the transformation from trackie to roadie. He once weighed 84kg, now he’s down to a svelte 77kg.
Bos has struggled to fight for position in the bunch sprints as well as with getting over the climbs to make it to the line with the front group.
When he’s in the front group, however, he’s a threat to win any sprint. He has tremendous power and can post up to 2000 watts in a burst that comes from years of short, intense sprints on the track.
His Blanco teammates say Bos is unique among today’s sprinters.
“When he’s fresh, he’s the fastest sprinter in the bunch, without a doubt,” teammate Tom Leezer told VeloNews. “In the final 200 meters, he can put down amazing power. The problem is the 200 kilometers that come before that.”
Leezer and his teammates did a good job keeping Bos in position Friday over a challenging second-category climb in the opening 80km. Omega Pharma chipped in to reel in a breakaway and set up the mass gallop with 10km to go.
“Theo is not the best bike racer in the world, but he is the best sprinter,” Leezer said. “When we can keep him calm and in good position over the climbs, he can beat anyone. He should be better than ever this season.”
He and Mark Renshaw split the sprinter duties at Blanco, with Renshaw sometimes slipping back into his role as lead-out man in stages that favor the Dutchman, such as last year’s Tour of Turkey, where he won two stages.
Bos will have a heavy spring schedule that will include more top quality racing, such as Paris-Nice and classics that favor his style, such as Scheldeprijs. A grand tour might also be in the cards, most likely the Vuelta a España.
Bos knows he needs everything to go perfect for him to have a chance to win.
On Friday, he left nothing to chance, donning a skinsuit and aero helmet and riding Giant’s new super-aerodynamic frame. When Bos showed up a few years ago donning a track suit, many were chuckling.
“If you can gain one or two watts wearing a skinsuit, why not?” Bos said. “People try to hold onto the old things in cycling. People were really laughing at me when I was wearing a skinsuit, now more and more teams are wearing them. Cavendish wore one in the worlds.”
If Bos keeps winning, no one will be laughing for long.