Gerben Thijssen has enjoyed a wonderful season, his first with Intermarché – Wanty. A few eyebrows were raised when they signed him from Lotto Soudal, especially as 2021 was a bit of a struggle for the sprinter. Immediately, they put together a sprint train to support Gerben, this train remained consistent throughout the season, which was a big part in his success. For me, it was a stroke of genius to team Gerben up with Boy van Poppel, a hugely experienced lead out man, who was a big help in all of Gerben’s wins this season.
“For me, personally, when I signed for Wanty I thought it was a step back, but this season it was quite clear that this was the best decision I ever made. I had a person that really did believe in me, that was Boy. For me, it was really difficult to trust someone in the cycling world, and with Boy and Julius (Johansen) I have it. With Boy, we made some big steps this season.
The confidence they have in me, the train I have with me and all the work they do for me. It is for me the best team ever, and I’ve started winning again and that’s really important because I had to wait a long time to start winning, so this was so special.”
It had been a tough spell for Gerben, mainly due to a significant crash he had in the 6 days of Ghent, back at the end of 2019. The following years, he found it hard to challenge for wins, it was a frustrating spell for the young man.
“I crashed in the November, but I was back on the bike already in January. But the problem was also mental, I had to start believing to become a normal person and then after it to start believing to be a cyclist. It was a horrible period, but I started knowing myself really well during that time.
At the start of this season, I was hoping to be better in the bunch sprints, to get better placement and then if it all falls together try to win one race. At under 23 I won quite a lot of races, and then I became a professional rider and I had to wait around 3 years for my first win. So that was not always easy.”
The early part of 2022 was following a similar pattern, with a couple of good placings, but still no win. All of this changed in May, in the 4 Days of Dunkirk. After finishing 2nd and 3rd in stages 2 and 4, Gerben’s last chance of success was in the final stage.
“During that day, I told them that I didn’t want to sprint, but then all my teammates said that I had to. Then I took my first win, it was so special, especially with all the hard work everyone had done for me during the year.”
When he crossed the line that day you could see what it meant to Gerben. All the hard work, dedication and sacrifice was worth it.
“It meant everything; it was so special. It looked like I was even scared to win, and then I took my first one and then I had so much confidence for the rest of the year.”
I love his honesty. This is a rider who consistently won at under 23 level, but a tough start to his professional career had dented his belief in his own ability. The win in Dunkirk was a huge moment, a reminder to him of what he’s capable of, and justification to his new team for throwing considerable resources behind their new sprinter. Over the next few races Gerben was unlucky not to win again, he was 2nd in the Veenendaal Classic and 3rd in Marcel Kint Classic and the final stage in the Belgium Tour. Then he headed off to the Tour of Poland, with a chance to win his first world tour race. The first stage was won by Olav Kooij, but a crash in the closing kilometres made it hard for a lot of sprinters to challenge. The second stage was another sprint finish, and another messy one.
“Everyone was believing in me there; the whole team was together around me to support me. I had an amazing final 20km. First, Quinten (Hermans) did a huge pull, then after it Julius took over and then Boy gave all he had to put me in the perfect position for the last roundabout. Then he told me that I had to launch my sprint really early because it was quite a messy sprint, so I launched it at 250m. Boy couldn’t believe that I still won that race, it is so amazing to work with him, he is my mental support every day and every time.”
This meant the team travelled to the Vuelta full of hope and expectation, but a crash forced Gerben to quit the race during stage 9, but he was able to return to racing for the final block of Belgian races in September, and he was about to win his third race of the season at Gooikse Pijl.
“I was there with quite a big goal; I was eager to win one more race. Then I was there on the start line together with Alexander Kristoff, so for me it was quite different approach there to the sprint. The team was there to work for Alexander, but he launched his sprint really early. That opened a gap for me, so I followed Jasper Philipsen and was able to beat him on the line. It gives me a lot of confidence to beat someone like Philipsen, I’ll work super hard this winter to try to be more consistent in all the bunch sprints.”
This season has shown that Gerben has the speed to win bike races, even against some of the fastest sprinters in the world. With renewed confidence, he can approach 2023 with hope, he just needs to do one thing.
“Always follow Boy.”
So, keep your eye out for Gerben Thijssen in 2023, you’ll find him on the wheel of Boy van Poppel!