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Eric Dekker (Rabobank) Interview
 
By Staff
Date: 2/17/2006
Eric Dekker (Rabobank) Interview
 

Eric Dekker Interview
I couldnít even imagine doing the things Iíve done by now. I knew that I probably would be able to win a Tour stage someday, or Paris -Tours maybe not in the way I did in 2004, but a lot of riders can win in a flat race. But Iíve surprised myself a couple of times, yeah.
Jan Janssens

Erik Dekker (35) probably expected more from his penultimate season on the bike. ďIt didnít last long enough, most of allĒ, he says. ďOn the 20th of August I broke my collarbone. So much for this season, or for getting good results anyway, I thought. But it healed well and I was on my bike again soon enough, until I fell ill a few days before the start of the Tour of Poland. I was able to train the next day, but afterwards the fever flared up again. My blood values were so messed up that I wasnít allowed to do any heavy exercise. So then you look back on last season and you realize, itís been a long time since I actually rode a race.Ē

SM: How do you look back on the other two parts of your season?
Dekker: I felt really good during Paris-Nice, the first Pro Tour race, but I punctured in the descent of the Mont Faron. Iím convinced that if it wasnít for that I could have made the top 3, instead of finishing 11th. In the spring classics ĖFlanders, LiŤge and Amstel- I always try to play a decisive role, but for some reason I fell short last year. I didnít even feel good enough to think I could win, a feeling I had never experienced before.

The second part of the season was the Tour de France. I was in great shape, but I only really had two opportunities to get something out of it. It seems like the Tour is getting more and more under the control of the sprinter teams each year. So that means more mass sprints and less chances of successfully finishing off a break. 

SM: Did that feeling of not being good enough to ride for victory in the spring classics play a role in your decision to quit in 2006?
No, I took that decision more than a year ago. My performance in these last two years never affected it. 

SM: So how did it feel going into the winter, knowing that itís your last one as a rider? Did it motivate you to work extra hard for the last time?
 Last winter I trained really hard too, probably a little bit too much even. Maybe there was a slight difference in my level of motivation Ėin a good way I mean- but apart from that I donít think it was really different. My goals are the same too: like every year Iím aiming for the classics. The biggest question is whether Iíll ride the Tour or not. Last year I didnít really want to start but the management was convinced that I had my place on the team. Thatís how it is with me: if they need me or think they need me Iím there, and Iíll give myself for a 100%.

SM: So why stop at the end of this season, when you probably have a few more good years in you?
Iím trying to avoid dying a slow death; having to feel that my chances of winning are getting smaller year after year. I wouldnít want to ride just because I wouldnít know what else to do, or for the money. Itís been enough. You have to quit some time, and itís nice if you can choose that time yourself, instead of a team that doesnít want to offer you another contract.

SM: By announcing your leave relatively early you also gave people who might be interested in Dekker post-career a little more time to see how they might fit you in.
That wasnít the idea behind it though. I always try to be honest in interviews, so when they asked when Iíd quit I answered, Ďat the end of 2006í. I really wasnít like, Ďnow the offers will be rolling in!í
But youíre right of course, there are some definite advantages. Like that Iím well-prepared for whatís to come now. Not that everythingís been planned, but I do have some general ideas. Because I realize that itís a very difficult period in every athleteís life. After Lombardia Iím going on a holiday for 2 weeks, Iíll wash my car and work in my garden, but then?  Normally speaking thatís the time you start training again, but it wonít be anymore. If you donít have anything to do, days can get really long and tedious. I donít want to have to go through that.

SM: Letís look back at your career for a moment. In 1992 you signed your first professional contract, as a promising rider with an Olympic silver medal around your neck. In your first two World Cup races in that same year you finish 10th and 11th. Why did it take so long before you really broke through?
The problem is that fans and the press only look at major victories: Tour stages, classics, championships. I did win races, every year, I never was a bad rider. And I steadily rose on the UCI ranking over the years. Iím just saying, I never felt like I was doing badly, but the outside world is constantly pressuring you for that first big win. But you have to realize that in order to win a classic or a Tour stage, you need to be really good. Museeuw won over 10 World Cup races, but look how long it took him to do so. Someone like Tom Boonen will probably have to experience one day too that you canít win a big race every season.

SM: But youíve been doing that on a regular basis since 2000. You once said that thereís a difference between the Erik Dekker before and after 2000. Care to explain?
When youíve reached certain goals, you gain a sort of confidence from that. Before that I couldnít just yell ĎI can win the Amstel Gold race!í  I could believe it, but not show confidence in it.

SM: In a previous interview you told me that DS Adri Van Houwelingen was partly responsible for that change.
Yeah, that was at the end of the 97í Tour. He saw me collecting water bottles from the team car, and apparently I was doing it really fast. (laughs) Thatís when he said: ĎWhy donít you stop doing that and try to get in the break tomorrowí. And I did. I didnít win, but to me it was a revelation: it was the first time I was at the front of a race. That was on a Thursday. On Friday I was in the break again, and on Saturday I ended fifth in the ITT in Disneyland. And a little bit later I was able to follow Rebellin in the ClŠsica San SebastiŠn. That was the first time I played an important role in a classic.
Sometimes you need a kick in he butt; look around you, there are guys that canít follow the group and you ride past them whistling, with 12 water bottles on your back. It was an important moment, yeah.

SM: Would you say that you realized your potential too late, that you underestimated yourself for too long?
Before 2000 I couldnít even imagine doing the things Iíve done by now. I knew that I probably would be able to win a Tour stage someday, or Paris-Tours Ėmaybe not in the way I did in 2004, but a lot of riders can win in a flat race. But Iíve surprised myself a couple of times, yeah.

SM: Which result surprised you the most?
The overall victory in the Tirreno-Adriatico. Iíve had problems there so many times at the start of my career, getting completely crushedÖin my head that race was so tough that I never wanted to go there again.

SM: In 2000 you won 3 stages in the Tour de France as a non-sprinter and non-climber. Impossible, youíd think.
You donít really think about it during the race itself, you just go hunting for stage wins. It wouldnít work at first and then, in the 8th stage, bang! A few days later it happens again, and again. So you do feel like itís a little bit much, but you donít have the time to think it over, because the next day thereís another stage. Only afterwards Ėwith the criteriums and the publicity- you start to realize that youíve done something pretty amazing.

SM: And then you went on to win the ClŠsica San SebastiŠn, a race that -most people said- was too tough for you.
Yeah, even though Iíve always been in the first group there since 1997.
Thereís only one climb in the entire race, and when I feel good I can do a decent bit of climbing. I had ambitions for that 2000 edition too. Thereís a story connected to that, because of a cancelled flight we arrived at the hotel really late, so that there wasnít even time for a team talk the night before the race. Because of all that Theo De Rooij (Rabobank D,S. at the time) wasnít feeling very confident about our chances. When I came down to breakfast the next day, I said that if they could deliver me at the foot of the Jaizkibel in a good position, Iíd take care of myself. Theo looked at me with a strange look, thinking Ďyeah, suuureí. But I won!

SM: The season after your breakthrough year you won Ėamong other races- the Amstel Gold Race, a Tour stage, and the overall ranking in the World Cup. It started with that second place in the Tour of Flanders. A double feeling? (note: Dekker thought himself the slowest of the lead group and started sprinting from last position, and to his surprise easily overtook his companions, except for winner Bortolami. A beginnerís mistake.)
Thereís only one race in my career that I really lost, and thatís that Tour of Flanders. I should have won it, simple as that. But itís not like it keeps me awake at night either. Besides, if I had already taken the lead in the World Cup there the race might have been very different in Amstel. The way it went now, I was second in Flanders, 7th in LiŤge-Bastogne-LiŤge and a week later I was leader in the World Cup overall ranking thanks to my performance in Amstel.

SM: Your victory in Amstel was extra special because of who you beat.
There was the way in which I won it, and if someone like Lance Armstrong plays a role in that it makes the story even better, of course.

SM: Would it be fair to say that Paris-Tours 2004 was the most beautiful win of your career?
Yeah, I think it would. That first Tour stage has a special place too, but Paris-Tours, that was truly exceptional. A few weeks ago I was on Studio Sport (note: Dutch sports program) and they showed the race again. I was sitting there and thinking: Ďitís not going to work!!í (laughs). Iíve seen the footage a few times by now, and itís still exciting. It was a weird feeling at that time too: for 200km you ride in front of the peloton, but you know you wonít make it. And thenÖ

SM: Youíre one of the 4 riders who have been with Rabobank since the team was founded in 1996. Whatís more, you never changed teams. Why not? Iím sure youíve had some offers.
Nope, never. There never was a team that asked me if I wanted to come ride for them. I think itís because I never gave the impression that I wanted to leave. I did consider moving to a foreign team for my last season; but not for long, because you need a reason to leave and I couldnít come up with one. It was hard to imagine myself sitting at the dinner table of an Italian, Spanish or French team and being happy.

SM: You were/are only one of a few team leaders for the classics at Rabobank. Michael Boogerd would like that to be different. Whatís your take on it?
In the last couple of years, Michael has proven that heís just about the strongest rider in the entire peloton in certain races ĖAmstel, L-B-L. Heíd like to have 7 men riding exclusively in his service for once, but on the other hand he also realizes that with Oscar Freire and myself Ėwhen I feel good- the team has two other riders that can win. Having multiple team leaders shouldnít be a problem, if you ask me. On the contrary, I thought it was a shame that Michael and Oscar werenít on the team for the Tour of Flanders last year. I feel that I have a bigger chance of winning if we start with three leaders, instead of just myself.

SM: Thatís where you and Boogerd disagree then.
Well, Michael is a different rider than me. When does he win a big race? When heís truly the best. I donít need to be the best to win...I have to be one of the best, but not the best.
Neither of us has managed to win L-B-L yet, but both Michael and I, I think we can. The difference is, if Michael rides the race 10 times, heíll be in the top 5 nine times out of ten. Iíd only be once or twice.
In 2004 I came really close. I was upset because things went wrong in the finale. By and large the fight was over the way in which you win a race; I believe that you have to be willing to gamble and risk getting Ėsay- 12th instead of winning. Michael wasnít willing to take that risk.

SM: How long did that fight last?
For about 6 months, but we made amends. Our relationship is better than ever before, and I think we both learned something from it.

SM: Is there a place for friendship in cycling, you think?
I believe there is. Like with me and Marc Wauters.

SM: Despite that sprint in the Tour of Holland in 2004? (note: Dekker Ė half accidentally- took the overall win from Wauters with a miniscule difference on the last day) 
(laughs) That was just unfortunate. When we crossed the finish line it was clear that we were 1st and 2nd, but I was glad that we won, and Marc felt the same way. But it was a little bitter that he was already called to the stage and had to come back because I turned out to have that millimetre over him. I really would have wanted him to win it.

SM: Youíre someone who helps out the younger riders, like the Rabo youngsters. 
Itís up to them if they want to absorb information and put it in use, but I try to give advice where I can to guys like Thomas Dekker, Weening, Posthuma and Eltink.

SM: You told me before that your post-career plans arenít clear yet, but that you have a general idea. Something to do with cycling, I presume?
The only thing I can, so to speak,  is ride hard on my bicycle. My interests are in cycling. So I hope to be able to continue working within the sport, but itís hard to say exactly what I will be doing. There arenít many job vacancies like in football (soccer). And itís really hard to predict what a job will do to you, or if itíll make you happy. We live in a society that focuses on results, and that goes double if youíre an athlete. If youíre a bit lucky and you have some talent you might cross the finish line in Paris-Tours after an unbelievable raid one day, and that feeling will never come back. Even if you become a DS and one of your riders becomes World Champion, thatís still not the same. What Iím saying is that thereís no point in looking for something to substitute for that feeling, but you do still want to be able to make your mark. And for me, thatís in cycling.

During the Rabobank team presentation it was announced that Erik Dekker will stay with the team as a DS after this season. Good luck Erik!
Photos courtesy of Erik Dekker Official Website: http://www.erikdekker.nl/

Source: Sport Magazine cycling special: http://www.sport.be/sportmagazine/nl/wielergids/inhoud/

 

 
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