Get to know Jens Van Den Dool

After we spoke with Julius van den Berg last week, we continue our focus on promising Dutch riders who rode well overall in the Olympia’s Tour with Delta Cycling Rotterdam’s Jens Van Den Dool.

Jens, still only 19, took some time out of is 2018 preparations to answer some questions for U23 Cycling Zone in an exclusive interview. We hope you get to know the prodigiously talented Dutchman, who you will definitely hear more about in the future as he has great potential.

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Smashing the prologue at Olympia’s Tour. Credit: Johan Arling Fotografie

“2017 was all about developing myself as a rider in the first place. There was no real race or period I was aiming for, but the team and I decided to learn and experience as much as possible. Despite, some good races in the first few months, the feeling I had was not really consistent as there were also some bad races. The first time I felt really strong was at the end of April as I was racing three tough UCI 1.2 races in Denmark,” Van Den Dool said when asked how he summed up his first season as an U23 rider.

Jens actually explained why he didn’t feel consistently great in the first half of the season: he had to give up some training time to study for his final exams in high school that he sat in May this year.

“Besides my first year at the Continental level, 2017 was also my last year in high school and I had to prepare myself for the final exams in May. Therefore, I wasn’t able to train and race properly in May. Due to the fewer hours of training and racing, I felt that I lost some fitness. The Oberösterreichrundfahrt in June still went pretty well (he was 16th overall while supporting teammate Ike Groen to 6th overall), but after that, I had some really bad races. In the end I graduated from high school which was the most important thing of all. In the period after the Nationals, I had more time to prepare myself for the second part of the season. Except three or four races, the second part of the season went really well. During several races, the feeling was very good and there were even some good results. The season eventually ended well with finishing three UCI 1.1 races in the last week of the season.”

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Leading the field at Ronde van Limburg. Credit: Leon van Bon/Topcompetitie.nu

Jens also admitted that this wasn’t really his first season at U23 level, as he didn’t do many specific U23 races, instead racing a lot of national races or pro races, depending on the Delta Cycling team’s schedule. Therefore, Jens said he found the pro races much harder than any other events he did this season. He spoke about the differences between the races:

“I mainly rode UCI .2 and .1 races and many national races in the Netherlands. The only U23 races I rode this season were the Nationals and Olympia’s Tour. In the Netherlands, the style of racing is very much the same as it was in the U19 category. It is very much about echelons and nervous racing on flat roads, but of course the races are longer and the competition is much higher than in the U19 category. For me, the toughest challenge was the endurance of the non-U23 races. In long UCI races like GP Viborg and Famenne Ardenne Classic, I was able to be at the front of the race for a long time, but many times the last kilometres were just too much. Many times, I dropped from the first group in the last ten or twenty kilometres. In the last few months of the season, I rode some more international races. The style of racing in the international and professional races is much more predictable than races in the Netherlands. Often there is an early breakaway that is not given to much space by the controlling team and in the end, there is the final 40 to 50 kilometres of intensive racing. That is a pretty big difference compared to the intensive racing in the Netherlands and in the U19 category.”

As he touched on earlier, Jens did race an U23 Dutch race called the Olympia’s Tour. Despite being just 18 at the time, Jens was brilliant, staying always with the best and finishing 7th on GC.

“In the weeks before Olympia’s Tour, the feeling got better and better. Olympia’s Tour is more or less the only race of the season I prepared for specifically together with the team’s coach. The race started well as I finished ninth in the prologue of only 4,5 kilometres. The next day was a typical Dutch race with small roads, rain and crosswinds all day. I managed to get in the decisive break of the day, finishing ninth again and taking a lot of time ahead of many other riders. The next three stages were controlled by BMC Development Team (protecting eventual winner Pascal Eenkhorn) and therefore not very exciting. All these stages ended in a bunch sprint and there were no changes in the GC. The last day was the only hilly stage of this year’s Olympia’s Tour. Unfortunately, I got a little bit sick in the night before and therefore, this hilly stage was all about surviving for me. I was not strong enough to get in the leading group in the final, but luckily me and my teammates Rens Tulner and Gerco Pastoor were able to chase and limit the time loss. In the end I finished 7th in the GC, which made me feel really satisfied as I didn’t expect such a result at the beginning of the season.”

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Popping a wheelie at training camp. Credit: Henri Santing

Even though Jens has finished his studies at high school, he is not done with education. He is now a university student and he talked about his experience so far mixing university with racing, although he only started in September so he has a small sample size of putting the two together since he stopped racing in late October.

“Since September, I am studying Management & Entrepreneurship and I am following this study at home. I am following several lessons via a digital classroom on my laptop, but most of the time it contains self-education. Because the study is mainly about self-education, it is possible for me to plan my training and studying very flexible. I need to study quite a lot of hours, but during the winter months, the combination is more manageable. During the racing season, the combination is harder as you are away from home more. The combination of high school and racing in the first few months of the season was pretty tough, so that is why I choose for this more flexible style of education. Up and until now, I don’t regret my choice.”

Despite his strong prologue at the Olympia’s Tour, Van Den Dool says this area is actually a weakness for him and he is hoping to work on it in the future. However, he says hard races are definitely his thing. However, eh will discover more U23 races in 2018, as well as racing with more hills and mountains as the team’s calendar will change slightly for the upcoming season.

“I think that time trailing is surely not my biggest strength for now. The prologue in Olympia’s Tour was good, but I did not feel very strong in all the other TT’s of this season. However, I do want to work further on my TT capabilities, especially as Delta Cycling Rotterdam is offering us a very fast TT bike next season (the team is switching from Merckx bikes to Specialized)!”

“I really do like Classics and hard races, because the strongest riders will always appear to the front in the final of these races. Those races are less controlled than stage races and therefore more about racing, since it is racing from start to finish with almost no time for recovery. I think my biggest strength for now lays at these hard races. Unfortunately, I did not race much in the hills or mountains last season. In 2018, Delta Cycling Rotterdam is very likely to race more U23 Classics and stage races in the hills and in the mountains, so I am really curious to see how far I can get in these races.”

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Jens (right) takes third in the 2016 edition of the U19 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, also known as La Philippe Gilbert Juniors. Credit: La Philippe Gilbert Juniors race organisers

After speaking a lot about the future calendar and bike changes in Delta Cycling Rotterdam, attention then turned to the goals Jens wants to set himself for the coming season.

“As I said, 2017 was all about learning and experiencing and to be honest, I learned and experienced a lot! I particularly learned more about myself and how to train properly and make sure I am in a good shape to train and race. With all the lessons learned and experiences from this year, my goal for 2018 is trying to aim for a specific race or race period, and then to get the maximum out of myself during that specific race or race period.”

“However, at the moment, I am not hundred percent sure which race or period it will be as the team’s management is working hard on completing the race schedule, but I think it will be a hilly race. Races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 and An Post Rás should suit me well. As I already mentioned, I am also very curious to see how far I can get in the really mountainous U23 races.”

“In the end though, 2018 will also be about learning and experiencing again. The development of a cyclist is a really long and complex one, so I believe you will never be done learning and experiencing, especially as I am still pretty young next year.”

Despite being Dutch and liking hard, hilly races, it was not his native Amstel Gold Race that Jens chose as the pro race he wants to win the most in his career if he had his choice of where to win, but another of the Ardennes Classics:

“Definitely Liège-Bastogne-Liège. As I a kid I already loved to watch this race and after racing the U19 version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège (known as La Philippe Gilbert Junior) in 2016, I only started to love this race more and more! I really enjoy training and racing in the Ardennes and therefore I dream of winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège one day. For now, though, it is still a really long way to get there,” Jens laughed, as our interview ended.

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Jens at the Ronde van Limburg. Credit: Jens’ mother

U23 Cycling Zone would like to thank Jens for taking part in the interview and we wish him all the best for 2018 as he strives to achieve his goals. We also wish to thank Delta Cycling Rotterdam’s Press Officer, Mark, for helping set the interview up. You can follow Jens on Twitter at @JensvdDool.

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