Everyone has their role in the race for the rainbow jersey

Everyone has their role in the race for the rainbow jersey
Everyone has their role in the race for the rainbow jersey

After the mixed relay at the World Cycling Championships in Wollongong last Wednesday, national coach Koos Moerenhout got into the car with the three riders from his men’s selection. The part, in which the Netherlands had been counted among the favorites in advance, had turned out to be a disappointment: first Bauke Mollema had a material breakdown, which meant that Mathieu van der Poel and Daan Hoole had to continue together. Shortly after they were relieved by the Dutch women, Annemiek van Vleuten had a hard fall and the Dutch medal aspirations could be dashed.

Still Moerenhout tasted little disappointment in the car on the way back to the hotel in Sydney. “Of course it was really a setback, but I noticed that the men were able to put things into perspective,” he says by telephone from Australia. During the car ride of more than an hour, the lost day passed, but then it was about this Sunday’s road race. Moerenhout: “They got over it fairly quickly, and I felt that the atmosphere and the experience were just fine. Sunday is the main goal.”

The World Championship road race for men – the women drove early on Saturday morning Dutch time – is a special race on the calendar every year. For once, the riders are not riding for their commercial teams, but for their national associations. They do that without the earphones they normally wear for communication, while on that day everything should go well. Because if that succeeds, the reward is great: the world champion can drive around every race in the rainbow jersey for a year.

It is also a unique match for the national coach, say the three men who most recently determined the Dutch selection. Johan Lammerts did it from 2013 to 2016, Thorwald Veneberg succeeded him and at the end of 2018 Moerenhout became national coach. It is working towards a ‘peak performance’, says Veneberg about the position. “It’s difficult, because only at such moments does your job matter.”

Human knowledge

For the national coach, the work for the road race starts when the World Cup course is announced, in December the year before. Then it is important to see which riders fit the profile of the race. “You don’t take a sprinter with you if the course is mountainous”, Lammerts gives as an example.

Putting together the selection is not an easy task, says Veneberg. “They are riders who race against each other all year round, and now they have to work together.” Simply selecting the eight best riders makes no sense, he says. “They must be willing to sacrifice their own opportunities for someone else.” Knowledge of people is just as important for a national coach as tactical knowledge. “You should people skills and know exactly how to approach each rider.”

Sometimes the national coach has a luxury problem. For the flat course at the European Championships in Munich earlier this year, Moerenhout could choose from two top sprinters: Fabio Jakobsen and Dylan Groenewegen. Moerenhout chose Jakobsen, who won the match. “Dylan would have loved to drive there too, so it is important that you explain why the choice was not made for him.”

Moerenhout soon knew who he wanted to build the team around for this World Cup. Mathieu van der Poel as “spear point”, and Dylan van Baarle and Bauke Mollema who can also participate for the win. He let them know early in the year that he wanted to take them with him. „In that regard, it is also not rocket science”, says Moerenhout.

Lammerts also approached the most important riders in his eyes well in time, in the spring. „I visited them during Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico to hand them the course profile. So I hoped to plant a seed in their heads so that they would take the World Cup into account.”

As a young boy, most riders do not dream so much of the world title, but of the yellow leader’s jersey in the Tour de France or winning a classic such as the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, says Moerenhout. The World Cup does not always fit into a rider’s program either. “This year the Vuelta a España ran until September 11. After that, riders still had to make the trip to Australia.”

The eight Dutch riders all went through a different preparation for this World Cup. Van der Poel rode in shape through a number of fair races and the GP of Wallonia, in which Taco van der Hoorn also participated. Mollema raced in the Tour of Germany, Pascal Eekhoorn and Jan Maas started at two WorldTour races in Canada and Van Baarle, Wout Poels and Daan Hoole drove the Vuelta. The latter two left earlier due to a corona infection.

Once the squad is complete, the national coach has only a few days to create a group feeling. In 2018, Veneberg decided to set up a coffee corner in the hotel in Innsbruck, with a real barista. “All riders think coffee is important, so they have a place where they can chat, instead of just sitting in their hotel room.” The coffee corner is also this year in the hotel in Sydney.

Basic Scenarios

The tactics are also determined in those few days, in consultation with the riders, says Moerenhout. A number of basic scenarios about the course of the match are discussed. In addition, making clear agreements is the most important, he says. “Everyone knows their role.”

However, a national coach sometimes has to intervene during the game. Lammerts remembers the World Cup in Qatar in 2016, where the Netherlands appeared as leaders with Niki Terpstra and Dylan Groenewegen. Terpstra was in the leading group, and behind it the Germans drove to take back the refugees. Dylan then sensed his chance and wanted us to ride along. I then had to tell him to keep calm, that’s how we agreed.”

This year the division of roles is clear: Van der Poel is the leader. The chance of becoming the first Dutch world champion since Joop Zoetemelk in 1985 is estimated to be high. “We have a wider selection than ever,” said Veneberg. “Van der Poel in good shape stands out, but Van Baarle and Mollema can also win in his shadow.” Moerenhout also looks forward to the match with confidence. “I expect there will be breakouts and if we are there, then we have a chance.”

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: role race rainbow jersey

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