Ask Koen de Kort

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For a while now I’ve wanted to publish a regular feature where readers can ask a professional cyclist anything you want to satisfy your curiosity about living inside the pro peloton. Koen de Kort has been kind enough to help with this on a monthly basis and answer the questions you send in. After his team Argos-Shimano being awarded a World Tour license today, there’s no better time to start than now.

Q. First off, the question of the day. What was your reaction to the news of Argos-Shimano receiving your World Tour license and Katusha getting bumped?

Koen de Kort: Waking up to the news that the team received a world tour license was great, the team had no idea whether we were going to receive one or not. The manager of the team told me that they had a good feeling about it but we all had to wait until the announcement of the UCI to be certain about our license for next year. I’m also sure Katusha had no idea that they were not going to receive one either, that must have been a very big and unpleasant surprise for them. We’ll have to wait to hear from the UCI on what grounds they have been denied their license but all I can say is that I am very happy we did receive a license. The team has been in contact with the Tour Down Under organisation about travel plans and I’m happy they can finalise them soon!

Q. What types of equipment are possible to make exempt in a pro contract? (shoes, helmet, saddle…individual type of stuff)

KdK: In my Argos-Shimano team everything is covered and there are no possibilities for individual sponsorships but there is a choice between different types of versions from the range of the team-bound sponsor. For instance, we get sponsored by ‘Selle Italia’ saddles but we can choose which of their saddles we want to use. The same counts for the sunglasses, handlebars and shoes.

Other teams have a different approach and leave certain things up to the riders which means it’s possible to sign a personal sponsorship contract with a certain manufacturer. This usually involves just the shoes and sunglasses, all the other equipment is pretty much always provided by the team.

There are some exceptions where a team will get sponsored by a certain saddle manufacturer but if the rider really can’t get used to a saddle from that manufacturer they are allowed to have other saddles but without any brand names on it or even rebranded to the sponsor’s name.

Q. How often do you do testing (LT, VO2Max, etc) to gauge your form?

KdK: I do a yearly VO2Max test and the rest of the testing is done on the road. With the current power meters, like SRM, it’s not absolutely necessary to have regular VO2Max tests as it works really well to monitor form by training files. In my team I have to send my training files to the trainers daily and keep a very extensive training log book including subjective feelings of exertion and form. This combined with the training files gets put into graphs that give a very good insight into a riders form.

Q. Is there any sports psychology training that pros do?

I don’t think many pros will actually do a form of sports psychology training but I’m quite sure that most of the coaches and directors in cycling have a pretty good knowledge of it and use that when coaching the riders. I personally have a big interest in sports psychology, it was a big part of my human movement BSc study and I’m still reading a lot of books on this subject. Over the years I have learned a lot from studying, reading books and what coaches and directors have told me and I’m trying to take this experience into the team and help my teammates with their motivation in the races when the coaches aren’t around.

The major thing I have picked up over the years is setting realistic goals for every race, having a clear and set goal for a race will help with motivation and getting the most out of every race. Racing motivated will also help get the best training response possible and often prevents stupid crashes due to loss of concentration when racing unmotivated.

Q. How many sets of kit do the pros get? What other equipment do you get at the beginning of a season?

KdK: This season we changed kit in April (from 1t4i to Argos-Shimano) which meant we got a second complete set of kit just a few months into the season. A complete set of kit usually consists of about 15 sets of kit but we receive new kit upon request or at the start of each grand tour. I think I ended up the season with about 25 sets of kit (knicks and jersey) even though I lost a couple due to crashes. We have various jerseys, aerodynamic jerseys, summer aero, normal and normal summer jerseys. Apart from that we get 3 pairs of shoes at the start of the season (every rider always has a spare set of shoes in the team car in case a shoe breaks due to a crash), a training helmet, a race helmet and an aerodynamic helmet. We also receive 2 training bikes, one for home and the other to have at the team training base in Spain and a polar watch. Sometimes teams provide riders with laptops and other cool gadgets and I once received a very expensive watch from one of the team sponsors.

Q. What are some superstitions that you see in the peloton?

KdK: The most obvious one is wearing the #13 upside down on one side, I see that in almost every race and I have to admit I have been guilty of doing that as well. I think it’s now just the normal thing to do, that’s certainly the reason why I did it; I thought it was kind of cool to be able to wear one of my numbers upside down once.

Another big one I have seen lately is not passing the salt from hand to hand at the dinner table. If the salt gets passed on at the table it always needs to be put back on the table before someone else picks it up. Furthermore, dropping the salt shaker is apparently the worst thing in the world. We only had 2 riders on the team ‘believing’ in it at first but after 2 riders threw the salt to another rider across the table and crashed badly the next day everyone is keeping to this superstition now and I have heard of a similar situation on other teams. Apparently it originated in Italy and Italian teams but I have no idea what the original superstition comes from, would love to hear the reason behind this!

The final one I notice is that a lot of riders make the sign of the cross the moment they start a race, when they pass the finish line and especially when they win the race.

Regarding other superstitions (see here), I have never heard of superstition #1 but have occasionally encountered #3, 4 and 6. Not very often because I don’t have these superstitions and it’s hard to know if my roommate doesn’t shave his legs the day before a TT because he thinks it’s not necessary or because it’s a superstition and I haven’t actually asked anyone ever. I know of one teammate who I saw starting in a very old undershirt who told me it was his lucky undershirt. I usually start important races with all new kit but I don’t count that as a superstition, just being sure I do everything possible to start with 100% motivation and wearing nice new kit helps!

Finally, I do keep training and race kit separate like #5 states but not out of superstition but for the simple fact that once a set of kit gets dirty after a rainy stage this is then part of my training kit and I will need to keep it separate from the race kit as I don’t want to accidently pack this kit to a race and have to start wearing dirty kit, looks are everything!

Q. Which pros snipe Strava segments during races? Name names!”

I remember watching Marc de Maar and Laurens Ten Dam racing each other during the stages in Tour of California for the Strava segments by starting the climbs in the back of the bunch and getting to the top as far as possible to the front to make sure they’d have the segment over the other rider. It was very amusing to watch for the other riders in the bunch that knew about this rivalry. Unfortunately I’m not on Strava myself so I’m not sure what other riders would snipe Strava segments during races but I have heard rumours that Taylor Phinney has also been sniping away!

Please send your questions to Ask Koen (do not post questions in the comments). Guidelines: Please do not ask questions like “what do you eat before a race”, “what do you do for training” and such. This is your opportunity to ask what goes on behind the scenes in the life of a pro and ask the questions you’ve always wondered about.

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