As a bike rider, it could hardly be more emotional for Robert Gesink on Friday evening as his Jumbo-Visma team claimed the opening victory of the 2022 Vuelta a España on home soil in Utrecht and the veteran Dutch climber made it into the leader’s jersey.
“I’m still shaking now as I’m sitting here,” Gesink told reporters nearly an hour after Jumbo-Visma had delivered a powerful opening blow in the Vuelta, winning by 13 seconds on Ineos Grenadiers and pushing all bar the British team and QuickStep-AlphaVinyl from day one.
But if Primož Roglič will surely be the big beneficiary of Jumbo’s stunning start long-term, as he seeks for a fourth record-equalling Vuelta overall victory, Gesink was the man of the day as he crossed the line in first place and into the red jersey of leader.
Present as a teammate on all three of Roglič’s bids for victory in the Vuelta, Gesink had to endure some major disappointment this summer when he was not selected for Jumbo-Visma’s lineup for the Tour de France. But having refocused on the Vuelta, the reward in the Spanish Grand Tour for his long years of work behind the scenes for the team could literally not have come sooner.
“I’m obviously really grateful for this opportunity to take the red jersey in the country where I was born and raised,” Gesink said. “I’ve given a lot to this team and this is a nice thing to have.
“There wasn’t a discussion at all [about who would be first across the line], rather the word had always been like this, but only if we were sure everything was OK in the last 500 metres.
“It was a really tough team time trial, and I’m very grateful for this jersey.”
With an estimated quarter-of-a-million fans lining the route and a significant majority rooting for Jumbo-Visma, Gesink said that he had been able to channel that support to motivate him to ride as strongly as possible.
“You could really feel the energy coming through when you went through the city centre and the director radioed through we had to use that energy. It was really emotional, I’m still shaking as I’m sitting here and that makes it even more special to do what we did.”
Gesink recognised that while it initially had not been easy to assimilate that he had not been selected for the Tour de France, he had been delighted for the team’s success in the summer and had refocused on the Vuelta, he said.
“I had to process the fact that I was not in the Tour for some time because obviously it was tough and I was really happy to see the guys win, but I would have loved to have been part of it.
“Then my girlfriend and I talked it through and she reminded me that I have had such a nice career, we shouldn’t let ourselves down about this. So we went to the other side of the ocean, we got away from everything in Canada for a while. Then I started working to get to here, and here we are.”
The other thing Gesink said he had put behind him was the bad crash that Jumbo-Visma had suffered in the last Vuelta a España opening TTT in 2019, when a child’s swimming pool leaked water onto the road and almost the entire team went down.
“I didn’t think about it, but if you had mentioned it beforehand maybe I would have, so I’m glad you didn’t,” he told the journalist who asked him.
“I stayed upright but can still see the images of the guys lying all over the place at the roundabout where we crashed.
“But a team time trial is a big mental game, and what we did was focus on things we could influence and stay positive, use that as a kind of energy to try to go faster. It worked and I’m super happy to be here.”
As Gesink said once again, he was both grateful for the team’s decision that he could take the lead and delighted that their plans to go for the win had worked out.
“It signifies how much I’ve given to the team, and given to others. It’s the nicest way for them to show to me how grateful they are,” he said. “Primož gave me three red jerseys, one after each Vuelta, and now I have one of my own.”