Taco van der Hoorn, winner against all odds
Less than 0.02% of people in Netherlands are named Taco, about 1,300 in total in a population of roughy 17,5 million. One of them won a Giro d’Italia stage on Monday. It was a win against the odds, five months after Taco van der Hoorn almost left the sport. He held off a charging field alone to take one of those wins that makes cycling so incredibly special.
“Five months ago I considered quitting cycling because I had no contract,” he said. “Today, I won a stage of the Giro d’Italia.”
So much of an athlete’s life can come down to small chances, opportunities. Just last summer, Van der Hoorn learned that his contract with Team Jumbo-Visma would not be renewed. Not one team called him until mid-December, when Beat Cycling, a third division team, offered him a contract. It was only a few weeks later that Aike Visbeek, the new performance manager of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, offered him a ride on the Belgian team, newly upgraded to WorldTour level.
Five months later, Van der Hoorn won his first Grand Tour stage in his first-ever Grand Tour, at age 27.
Van der Hoorn is a special guy. He adores Graeme Obree, the infamous Scotsman breaking the world hour record on a bike made of by old washing machine parts. There is a poster of Obree adorning the living room wall of the house he shares with Jan Willem van Schip (you know, that guy with the weird handlebars). Together they study, fine-tune, and study aerodynamics some more. On Monday, solo against the wind with four seconds to spare, that study paid off.
Van der Hoorn toured around in an old Volkswagen camper van in the autumn of 2018, reconning the cobbles in Flanders and Roubaix and the run-in towards the Poggio in Italy hoping it would give him an edge in his first season with Jumbo-Visma. He spent a month on his own with some of his coffee, because he loves his coffee.
In 2017, a small crash on his cyclocross bike almost derailed his whole career.
“I was mostly lying flat on my bed in the dark for five months,” he told Wielerflits. In August of that year, in the fourth day back in the peloton after 299 days, he won a stage in the BinckBankTour. The way he did it was almost similar to today’s win in Canale, almost a thousand days later.
He’s one of those riders who has just kept plugging away, largely anonymous but on Monday, spectacular.
“For me, it was so surreal that I was there in front and the peloton was not coming back at me. I didn’t believe it,” he said in the post-race press conference. “I didn’t know there were only four seconds between myself and the peloton. Maybe that’s because I celebrated too much in the last 100 meters. I also felt the presence of the peloton but I looked back a few times and I could see they were quite far behind.”
“It was a big goal for me to go in the breakaway today. I had planned that no breakaway would go without me. It wasn’t the plan to finish off like this but I had to take the small chance I had,” he said after staying clear four seconds of a chasing peloton.
“I didn’t believe when we had one minute with 25k. I just think that 0.5 per cent, it’s enough chance and I just take it.”
Inside the last 20 km, Van der Hoorn moved clear with Simon Pellaud (Adroni Giocattoli-Sidermec), and then he went solo on the flatter run-in to the finish.
“Simon was pulling me hard on the climb. I’m a bit heavier and I was struggling. But on the descent I was feeling much stronger,” Van der Hoorn said. “I was thinking, ‘I have to go now and do a bit higher speed.'”
He did, and he ultimately won the stage.
And that name? No, his mum and dad didn’t name him after their favorite dish.
“I was named after [field] hockey player Taco van der Honert,” Van der Hoorn told Wielerflits. “My parents just liked the name.”