Thomas Dekker's Letter of Note
"Cycling made you the happiest guy in the world." Thomas Dekker's heartfelt advice to his younger self, reflecting on his tumultuous career in issue 50 of Rouleur.
After a prolific amateur career, Dekker turned professional with Rabobank in 2005. He went on to win Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour of Romandy and a Tour de Suisse stage. In July 2009, a urine sample from 18 months prior was found to contain traces of EPO. The Dutchman was banned for two years and signed with Garmin-Barracuda in 2012. He is currently without a professional contract.
You're writing this letter on your 30th birthday. Now you’re older, sometimes you think back. It all goes so fast and then it will come crashing down one day with one phone call. You will always remember the time and date: 12:20 on July 1, 2009.
You signed your first contract with Rabobank and success came so easy. That first training camp as a pro, you were 20 years old and the best of everyone. Holland will put pressure on you as their next Tour de France star. But you will enjoy it. You won’t feel the burden and won’t even think of doping in your first year as a pro.
But you'll see what guys around you are doing. As a social guy, everyone will be honest with you: the big riders, staff and doctors. They all want to see you succeed. They'll help you.
That’s the thing: don't even blame those people, it's the period of cycling you are in, the culture. You'll start doping in 2006. That's professional cycling, you’ll think: all the people around you are doing it so you have to do the same. Soon, it won't even worry you.
You moved to Italy alone, staying in a hotel for six months, just to be the best, away from your friends and family. It’ll pay off, and you’ll win Tirreno-Adriatico. You're young, living on adrenaline, getting big results, earning money and having fun. There won’t seem like a big chance of getting caught, though you'll see it's getting dangerous with Fuentes and the blood passport coming in 2008.
You will be an asshole for a long time – not abnormal when you're young, earning too much money, and nobody tells you no.
You'll feel like you were playing with fire so you stop doping. You'll have ridden half a season for Lotto before they catch you.
When the phone rings on July 1, 2009, you say it's impossible: you have been clean for a year, and know it's true. But it's an old test, from 2007. You tell Anne Gripper from the UCI “Thanks for ruining my life”. People almost never get caught for retroactive tests, even now. Why you?
You had been happy again, racing clean, third behind Cancellara and Martin in a Tour de Suisse time-trial and about to go to the Tour de France. And now your life will change, the structure will go.
Telling your parents about it will be so hard. And you'll feel so alone. You discover that you don’t have many real friends, just a lot of hangers-on who want to have a drink with you. That first year, you will totally lose it: drinking every day, partying, living like somebody who never had a real childhood. You’ll gain 16kg in six months from drinking and doing no sport. Those first ten years go so fast, but extremely slowly when suspended.
Then you’ll think you can come back to cycling, no problem. But it's difficult, and you forget that you doped for a period, but still won a lot of races without it. When you come back, your name will be blacklisted. Finding a team won't be easy. Try to keep the mindset you had when you were young: of being the best.
It's always easy in hindsight. You were naïve, but everyone would make the same mistakes with the same mentality as you have. You'll come to learn that you're more self-destructive than the average person.
You'll be the cyclist who doped, telling this story, till the day you die. It will make you as a person, but it's not the best thing for your career
So, my last pieces of advice: try to enjoy it more at the time. It goes so fast, and you don’t realise what you’re doing. Write a diary. And build a good, open relationship with the Dutch media: they will treat you well when you test positive.
Don't change because people want you to and stick to how you were when you were 18. I just want you to be happy in the things that you do – and cycling made you the happiest guy in the world.
This originally appeared in issue 50 of Rouleur, published in September 2014, as part of the Letters of Note feature.