Observations: Cees Bol
Cees Bol has had a great start to his first year as a pro. The rookie Sunweb sprinter won Nokere Koers in March, beat Peter Sagan to earn a stage win at the Tour of California, and is now wearing the leader’s jersey at the Tour of Norway after winning the first stage. Bouk Kriek gave him a call to see what he has learned so far.
__ SPRING __ I am very satisfied with how everything has gone since the winter. I rode almost all of the spring classics. In my first race on Belgian soil, I got a great chance and was able to capitalise on it immediately. Before the race, that was something I could have only dreamed of. In Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix, I made it into pretty elite front groups and could represent the team. And at Flanders, I was able to play an important role by placing Michael Matthews in a good position before the second climb of the Oude Kwaremont.
The team has allowed me to approach the races pretty freely. It was really important to me that no expectations were placed on my shoulders. After Nokere especially, they tempered my expectations and told me that I should take it easy. The races to come were going to be even harder, and I was told to just do my best and try to help the guys. That worked well for me, because I didn’t really know myself what I could expect. That way, you go into a race without too much pressure.
I would rather do a good race for 200 kilometres than finish it knowing that I actually rode like a bit of a coward. Had the team told me that I absolutely had to finish or finish in the peloton, that might have been what happened. You would then race cautiously. Maybe you would finish the race, but you might never have been in a good position. You’re better off to have ridden well for 200 kilometres.
__ WALSCHEID __ I can see the difference myself on television. Most people who know me or Max Walscheid well see it too, but there are certainly similarities. We are both tall. In both of the races that I won, Max wore the number one for the team. He was the sprinter on paper, so I do understand that the commentators would first look to the shirt, before considering the face or the details. It’s their job to do it properly. For them and the broadcast, it is better when they are correct. But I don’t find it too bad, because, in the end, ‘winner’ goes beside my name. We don’t really joke about it in the team, but in my training group, they do sometimes make fun of me by calling me Max.
__ LEADOUT MAN __ In Nokere, I was the designated sprinter. Max played a big role in my victory and did a strong leadout. That was awesome. Because of that, I’ve tried even harder to do my best to help him get a victory in the races afterwards. There is no hint of a rivalry between us. I get my chances, and Max gets his chances. At Sunweb, it’s not as if you are treated as if you are only as good as your last race. That’s not what it is about. Next week, for example, I’ll get my chances in Norway and Max will get his at the Dauphiné. We help each other and need each other to get good results.
__ THE BIG GUYS __ I certainly never thought that I would beat a rider as fast as Sagan so soon. During the sprint, I was completely focused on what I had to do myself—on timing it right and finding my way through the peloton. The moment I saw the finish, I started to sprint, and fifty metres before the line thought what the fuck. On the podium, I realised that the Peter Sagan was standing a step beneath me. For the prize, we got a sort of brick with something engraved on it. He then made a joke that it could be the first stone for my new house. It looks pretty good to keep Pascal Ackermann and Peter Sagan behind you.
__ NORTH HOLLAND’S BEST __ For the past five or six years that I have trained with Niki Terpstra, Laurens ten Dam, and Ramon Sinkeldam, it’s been an ongoing process. It is not as if every training ride we do is a lecture, but over time you learn a lot from those guys. That was certainly true in the years before I became a pro. You learn their structure and way of training. It was a unique chance to see how I stacked up as an amateur.
With Niki, I’ve often had conversations about his experiences in the classics and with Laurens about how he has managed his life as a pro for the past ten years. Being away from home so much and always training hard, continuing to eat well and resting at the right moments—if something is on my mind, they always have a good answer. During training, we can have a good talk about it. If you see that Niki also gets tired sometimes in that fifth hour or that Laurens has a bad day and bonks after three hours, you realise that they are also human, but they mostly know how to avoid those mistakes. That is why they are so good.
__ CURVERS __ Roy is a good, nice guy. If you have a question about a race or about life as a cyclist, Roy has an answer. Together with him, I scouted the last 160 kilometres of the Tour of Flanders. For five or six hours, we rode side by side. He could tell me exactly how the race would play out. We rode at a calm pace, and he kept reminding me where I could take it easy and pointed out landmarks, so I would know when the next climb was coming up. That was a great help for me to memorise the race. In the past half year, he has explained a lot to me about the ways things go in the peloton and what I can and cannot expect in a race. He really knows how it all works.
__ WORLD TOUR __ Beforehand, it is pretty hard to know what to expect of the World Tour. I thought it could not be so different to what I was used to in the races for elites and U23s. I am satisfied with the way I have made the step up, but I do notice a real difference from the amateurs. The level is generally a lot higher. Sometimes, you’re just sitting there suffering for two hours, as it’s going really fast, but no one gets dropped. On the other hand, they understand much better that there are times when it doesn’t make sense to race and it’s fine to just ride easily. In everything, you feel that the guys have so much experience.
__ BUNCH SPRINTS __ In the sprints, you see less and less control. If you look at videos from five or ten years ago, you’ll see one or two sprint trains solidly on the rails and racing fast to the finish. Two or three men were launched, and they sprinted against each other. Behind them, there was chaos. At the moment, I can hardly remember a sprint in which one team had complete control until the finish. It’s become much more of a game of intuition, experience for the timing, and bike-handling skills. You almost never see a team that takes over at the front five kilometres from the line and holds on until the end anymore. It’s a lot less controlled in comparison to five years ago. Personally, I find that a good development. Sprinting has kind of had to be reinvented. Men such as Roy Curvers, Bernhard Eisel, and Michael Mørkøv might not be the guys with the most power in the peloton, but for that kind of work they are so important, because they have a really good feel for how the peloton moves and where space is going to open up. That’s not the kind of thing you can read off their Garmins.
__ SUNWEB __ Not so much has changed in comparison to last year. That’s lucky. It shows that SEG’s approach was, on the whole, already very good. One big difference between the teams is the number of specialists and scientists. Whereas last year there were three people I could go to with my questions, I now have ten, and every one of them has their own specialisation. It’s really good to have so many people to reach out to within the team. But the best thing of all is that with Sunweb I get to ride all of the most beautiful races and compete at the highest level.
__ FAN CLUB __ Near the end of last season, I got a message from a man from Belgium that said that a Cees Bol fan club had been founded. That’s not the kind of thing that you hear every day. Every once in a while, I hear something from one of those guys. Last weekend, they were in the bar, cheering. Those messages are a good laugh. For the Dutch championships, they have even rented a VIP box near the finish and are coming with a bus from Belgium to watch.
__ GRAND TOURS __ As things now stand, I might have the chance to ride the Vuelta, but that is all still uncertain. It’s pretty nerve-wracking, because that would be an extremely hard undertaking. They say that you get a good bit stronger from a grand tour and that you really notice that the next season. I would have to do one to know if that is really true, but it would in any case be a good challenge. I am glad that I might have the chance to do one to develop as a rider. If you completely shatter yourself, the season is almost over. The consequences of pushing yourself too far are a bit smaller. I think the Vuelta is probably a bit more relaxed than the madhouse that is the Tour.
__ CLIMBING __ So far, I’ve been able to get myself uphill pretty well for a rider of my type. If I get dropped, I am always able to stay with the gruppetto, and I am luckily not the only one. When the road really turns up, nothing is expected of me. Up until now, I have not had any real problems. In the races with a couple of hills on the route that could still end in a sprint, I sometimes manage and sometimes don’t. The last stage of California is a good example of that. On the two climbs, they were still fighting for the GC, so it was really fast. After the first climb, I was the only sprinter left, and I got over the second one well too. In general, it is better for me if the climbs are not too steep unless they are very short.
__ SOMEWHERE WARM __ I do think about it sometimes, but if I make a list of pros and cons, North Holland is still the best place for me for now. That is because I feel at home here and have my training group. If I were to live alone on a mountain, I am afraid that I would quickly lose what I like about cycling. If you are always glad to get on your bike, I am convinced that you train better too. Plus, there is no real advantage for me in climbing lots of mountains. There is for a real climber, but I am not one. The most important training sessions for me are sprint sessions with a lot of changes of tempo on the flat. You can do that really well in North Holland, and you can always go away for a training camp once in a while. If you are happy, you train better.
__ LESSONS __ On all fronts, you have to keep trying to improve. That means that I am more aware about everything that I do. It’s less about big things than the accumulation of small things. If you continuously improve the details, you will slowly become a better racer. For me, that means, for instance, how I can best prepare for a race or what the best way to recover between races is. It’s the simple things that count.