With political turmoil, global conflict and a slew of celebrity obituaries, 2016 will for many people go down in history as a year best forgotten.
But not for Wout Poels. With a Monument win, a key role in Chris Froome’s third Tour de France triumph, and victories from February to September, the last 12 months have smiled on him.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” he says, reflecting on the fact that four years ago, he was lying on the side of the road with a ruptured spleen and kidney, three broken ribs and a bruised lung after a crash in the 2012 Tour de France that came to be known as the ‘Metz Massacre.’
The ever-smiling Dutchman tells Rouleur how things went so right in 2016.
Hit the ground running
I always go well in my first race of the year. Last year I trained a lot in Mallorca over the winter, I was there pretty much the whole time, and I worked a lot on my TT bike. So it was pretty cool to win the first race of the season, and with a TT.
Keep the ball rolling
Winning that early gives you a real boost. Straight away I saw my form. When you’re in great shape, when you prove that you had a good winter and that you’re strong, your confidence just gets better and better.
Pick your battles
I’d never even ridden a top ten in Liège-Bastogne-Liège before. But I really focussed on the one day races last year because I wanted to go to the Olympics; good rides would encourage the Dutch Federation to select me for the Games.
YouTube is your friend
It’s a mental thing as much as anything. I knew that I wanted to be good there in the Ardennes Classics and I thought about them the whole time. All through the winter they were in my mind. And I watched the finales for all three Ardennes races from the last five years; I was on the Wahoo Kickr [home trainer] and I was on YouTube, watching the last 10km of each of those races, trying to find a bit more info.
There’s nowhere to hide
Liège is a pretty honest race. If you’re good then you can get a good result; if you’re not good then you’re not going to get a good result! Amstel is quite technical, with small roads, left right all the time, and Flèche you have to be positioned perfectly on the Mur de Huy and you have to start your sprint at the perfect moment.
We were so close to losing everything.
Boom, boom, boom, boom!!
In a stage race, if you lose 10 seconds or something you can make it up the next day, whatever. But in a one day race everything has to be right. It’s like one big explosion on that day, and it has to be like a really, really big boom! Everything has to be right, and you need that bit of luck.
Trust your instinct
In a race like that, especially at a point in the finale, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing. You’re on automatic pilot, just going for the best result. I remember a few things in Liège, the sprint for example, but I really don’t remember many details.
Letting it all sink in
I’m always asked about the drive home after the finish. Everyone has to go home, don’t they!? I couldn’t stay on the podium forever.
It was actually quite nice. After the finish it was hectic, with press and podium and then doping control and then back to the bus. After that it was really nice to be alone in my car and just think, ‘oh, what the fuck did I do today? That was cool!’
You’re only as good as your last race
I haven’t really thought about Liège 2017. You’re only as good as your last race, and on the start line everything is back to zero again; you’re just one rider who is trying to win a race.
I think my best day in the Tour this year was when Chris crashed [on stage 19]. I remember I saw him crash, then he jumped on G’s [Geraint Thomas’] bike and then I was like, ‘ahh this is the end of the Tour, the end of the yellow dream and winning it for the third time.’
We were so close to losing everything, but I had a really, really good day. So I was pretty happy I could support him, I could find him and try to lead him to the finish and not lose too much time.
Find a good leader
If you ride for victory it’s pretty different to riding for someone else. They’re both really intense experiences but how you feel is very different. I mean, you become a cyclist to win races for yourself, otherwise why else would you become a professional? But I have to say I really like to work for Chris, and being in the Tour group when he won was great.
Watch out for Wout
I think 2016 has definitely changed my repuation in the peloton, and also in my own team. If you are in the finale, riders are going watch you more and think, ‘ah wow, Wout is still here. We have to watch out with that one, we won’t let him go.’
The Late Show with Wout Poels
I have to say I have never thought about celebrity. I just like to train hard, do a good job and then get good results. Then afterwards we’ll see if I’m maybe going be a TV presenter. That would be fun; I could have my own late night talk show. Hah!