Robert Gesink returns to the Keutenberg, the climb that took his father
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Robert Gesink returns to the Keutenberg, the climb that took his father

by Jered Gruber at 3:12 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Dutch talent says his emotions are in check, hopes for Rabobank glory on Sunday

Less than half a year ago, Robert Gesink's father crashed on the descent of the Amstel Gold Race's famed Keutenberg climb. The father of Holland's biggest Tour de France hope succumbed to his injuries not long after.

This week and this Sunday's Amstel Gold Race has been a difficult return to the region for Gesink.

"It was a severe blow. This is the first time that I've been back since the accident. I must say that it does not feel bad. I have my emotions under control. Wednesday, I rode the the route to test my explosiveness, including the Keutenberg. It was hard at Tirreno. I saw my mother and girlfriend, but Dad was not there for the first time. I wanted to give up immediately. I'm slowly beginning to process his death, but it is still an awful lot of pain. I will try to hold off my emotions on Sunday."

With emotions in check for at least the duration of the race, a victory would likely open the floodgates for the rider who is doing his best to cope with the loss.

The question of winning has been one that Gesink has done his best to push away in the lead-up to the race though. The winner of the Tour of Oman has turned the focus to the defending champion, Philippe Gilbert, while Gilbert has returned the favor and pointed back at Gesink.

"Keep an eye on Gesink on Sunday," said Gilbert to Het Nieuwsblad.

Rabobank's lanky captain shrugs off the notion.

"He is more a favorite than I am. I miss that explosiveness on the hills. I am a rider for the Grand Tours, give me the long climbs. If I start the Cauberg with Gilbert, it's over."

Rabobank can count on a strong team with a number of realistic options including Gesink, Luis Leon Sanchez, Oscar Freire, Carlos Barredo, and more. With so much firepower, Rabobank won't be lacking in cards to play.

"We have to play a tactically smart game. We have a strong team in terms of depth. I've talked with Erik Dekker, we will forge a plan. This race is not only important for any Dutchman, it is also the race of Rabobank. It is time to win again here. I realize that everyone is hoping for a strong performance from me, but that does not cause me extra pressure. Although it has been many years since a Dutchman won, I can only do my best."

Speaking of three critical teammates, Gesink seems to get along well with the squad's Spanish contingent of Rabobank veteran and three-time World Champion Oscar Freire, as well as new teammates for 2011, Luis Leon Sanchez and Carlos Barredo.

"They're great people. Luis Leon Sanchez is a true team player. When I punctured at Pais Vasco, he the first to slow for me. He brought me right back into the peloton. He's a quiet guy. I try to speak Spanish with him; he tries to speak English with me. [laughs] Those are great conversations. Carlos Barredo is as mad as a hatter, a real gem. Together with Oscar Freire, they form a real comic duo. The atmosphere is beneficial though. Everyone wants to work for each other and that should show on Sunday. If there is a group at the base of the Cauberg on Sunday, we will put everything on Oscar."

Freire seems to be the wild card in the predictions this week. There has been much talk of brilliant form from the enigmatic winner, and if he can make it to the foot of the Cauberg, he'll be one of the few riders that could give Philippe Gilbert a run.

With Freire the team's top pick for a 'bunch sprint', Gesink's options lie on the attack. He has already gotten a chance at victory at the Amstel Gold Race from a break in 2009, but he was found wanting on the Cauberg - a race he still thinks about to this day.

"We'll see. I do not think I will get the head start like I did in 2009. I got ahead with Ivanov and Kroon. We held out, but I cracked on the Cauberg. I did way too much work. Ivanov played it much smarter and won. I often think back to that edition. Who knows if I will ever get another chance like that. I'm a lot stronger now, but my opponents know that as well."

While the win on the Cauberg is one that Gesink would love to take, one race stands high above all others.

"I am only 24. I have lots of time. But I admit: the Tour win is my ultimate dream."

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