Team LottoNL-Jumbo has attracted a number of new riders this year. 22-year old Dutchman Antwan Tolhoek is now ready for the WorldTour, but just four years ago, skating marathons were his life.
Tolhoek joins from Dutch professional continental team Roompot. He raced with them in 2016 after a 2015 trainee period with Team Tinkoff. The Russian WorldTour team saw that Tolhoek had enough talent, but still had to mature a couple of years. He did, and now the young Zeeland cyclist is debuting in the WorldTour.
"Looking back, you can say that the process has gone quickly since the end of 2013 when I decided to concentrate on cycling. Now, just four years later, I am a WorldTour rider,” he said.
“Of course, it was my goal to become pro’ since the beginning, but I didn’t dare dream that it would happen so quickly.”
Despite Tolhoek only serious starting cycling in 2014, he had trained on a road bike during his time as a speed skater.
Cycling was important in his family. His father Patrick Tolhoek was a professional rider and rode the Tour de France a number of times. Still it seemed Antwan Tolhoek would not become professional cyclist.
“Everything started with speed skating. I skated with speed skaters from my neighbourhood, and they took me to training and to races. Before I knew it, I was travelling the whole country to compete in tournaments.
”I was particularly very good at marathons, but also found my way on the indoor ice tracks. When I was a junior, I moved to the north of the Netherlands and I focused completely on skating. I moved to Heerenveen and was coached by Henk Angenent, a skating icon and winner of the last Elfstedentocht."
Angenent forced him to think critically about his future. Tolhoek realised the importance of cycling for him. Soon after, he joined team WV De Jonge Renner.
"I decided to put all my energy into cycling to become a professional. I was first with team WV De Jonge Renner and then straight to the Rabobank Development Team. When I was training for speed skating, I trained almost as much on the bike as I now do as a high-level cyclist, so I had a nice base."
During his years with the Rabobank Development Team, Tolhoek began to develop into a climber. And since he is from the flat Zeeland, he would only see the mountains in races.
“I did well in races with hills. Then I started riding them more and more,” he said. “I love to training in the mountains now. It's just you on your bike against the mountain. It’s suffering to the top, which is what I love to do.
“At LottoNL-jumbo, I hope to race more in the mountains in order to become a better climber. I start in February in the Ruta del Sol, and the Tour of the Basque Country is also on my programme. The Basque race appears to be the toughest stage race of the year. So I'm wondering how I'm going to go.”
His training area around Yerseke is pancake flat and so Tolhoek occasionally travels to the Ardennes. He still lives at home with his parents, but may soon move to Lanaken, Belgium.
“For my career as a climber, this is a logical consequence,” he said.
Mountain jersey in a WorldTour race
Tolhoek’s career did not start with Tinkoff, but that gave him a chance to ride for Roompot and then the top Dutch team LottoNL-Jumbo. With Roompot, he won the mountains jersey in the Tour de Suisse.
“I regretted that I would not become a pro’ right away with Tinkoff, but other WorldTour teams, including LottoNL-Jumbo, showed interest. I was still very young, though, so Team Roompot was a perfect fit.
“At the beginning of the season, it was very though during the Ruta del Sol, but soon after that, I found some good shape. Especially, in the Tour de Suisse, I was in great shape and I was able to show myself. The mountain jersey in Switzerland was a breakthrough. From that it was clear that I could improve further."
In 2017, Tolhoek will stick with his trainer, for a third year in a row working with Grischa Niermann. Niermann is also making the step up from the Rabobank Development Team to Team LottoNL-Jumbo.
"I like that Grischa will be a sports director in the team. Since my time in the Rabobank Development Team, we have had a good relationship. During my time at Roompot, he continued to coach me and our collaboration was always good. His experience has helped me much and the steps I've made in recent years are also due to his work.”
Tolhoek is also considering racing for the classification in some stage races. His aim is to test himself over three weeks in the grand tours.
“That is the highest goal in cycling. I hope I can improve my climbing capabilities to compete in the GC. I have tried it several times, but I have always had trouble with time trials. Team LottoNL-Jumbo focus on that discipline, so I’ll have the possibility to train more on my time trial bike. I used to be a good five-kilometre skater, so I’m used to suffering against the clock.
"Of course I want to learn a lot next year, but I secretly have another important goal. I want to start and finish my first grand tour. I want to earn the selection because the team thinks I can handle it. If I'm realistic, I know that the Vuelta is my first opportunity.
“I will do everything to show myself for the selection. This is exactly why I traded my skates for a bike."