What's Cool In Road Cycling

Catching Up With Martijn Verschoor

It’s March so it must be time to catch up with Novo Nordisk rider; Martijn Verschoor. Even this early in the season he has put three big events under his belt and we managed to grab him at his Spanish base for some words before he shot off to Mexico. Racing, crashes, sprints, travel and diabetes, Martijn always has something to tell us.

Since the first time I bumped into Martijn a few years ago he has taken a second home in Spain and with such a beautiful setting I didn’t need much persuasion to meet up in a beach side café in the holiday resort town of Benidorm. With the warm spring sun beating down on the beach and a cooling breeze on the terrace of the café, I found chatting to Martijn the usual pleasure, how could it be any other way?

PEZ: You have already had a full season and it’s only the end of February: Tour de San Luis, Mallorca Challenge and Ruta del Sol, is that not a bit much?

No, it was perfect actually; maybe San Luis was a little bit hard. The first days were really hot, even for the Argentinean people. Some people said it was more than 50ºC out of the wind in the mountains, so that was hard. For our team it was a good race to develop for the rest of the season. I think if you compare our team this year to last year, you can see we are 20% better, all the riders are stronger. At the end of last year we had a perfect schedule for training and you can see that now we have started after the winter everyone is much better. So after Argentina I went to Mallorca for two days and then I went to a meeting in Geneva with the UCI, so I didn’t do the last two days, but the first two were good. The second day I worked for Andrea (Peron, Novo Nordisk team mate who was 11th on day 2), but I didn’t know if I was feeling good and Andrea is fast, he’s our new Italian sprinter. Then in the last week of Andalucía there was so much climbing, it’s incredible.

A hot day in Argentina.

PEZ: You were 11th on the first stage of the Ruta del Sol (Vuelta a Andalucía).

Yes, it was possible I could have been better but the road narrowed. In the last 200 metres the road went super narrow; I was a little bit too far behind because there was a crash 2K’s before, so….I wanted to do the sprint, but I was blocked at the roundabout. That’s how Belkin won; they took the right side and a lot of other people took the left, it was hectic in the final, but still I felt good. Next I go to the Tour of Mexico and then the real season for me will start I think. After that we go to the Loire Atlantique in France and then the Brabantse Pijl, but I don’t know if that is official yet, you would need to ask Fitzy (Fitzalan Crowe, Novo Nordisk press officer). I call her Fitzy, it’s easier!

After that it will be Turkey, California and then a little rest before some races in Canada, the Tour de Beauce.

PEZ: You won a stage in the Tour de Beauce, didn’t you?

Yes, that was a long time ago…3 years is a long time. I want to be good in those races and in France. Then we go to Turkey and California, it is very important for the team and then at the end of the year the Tour of Denmark, it’s very important because Novo Nordisk are from there. California and Colorado are the two biggest races in America, so they are very important too.

PEZ: With your season starting so early, when did you start training?

Oh, a little bit too late! San Luis was a little bit on the limit, maybe a bit early. I did my best though and we did have a training camp late in December. Although at training camp you have so much media, meetings, new equipment and so I started a little bit too late, maybe one or two weeks.

Winter training.

PEZ: You have a new bike this year, swapping Colnago for Orbea?

Yes Orbea, it’s a big move after four years with Colnago, with Orbea their bikes are more sloping (frame design). So I was moving things about for a few weeks to get the right settings, but now I have a good feeling. But when you change bikes you always have to move things yourself to get it right. I like Orbea they are super strong, super stiff.

PEZ: Is the idea behind the team still the same as before, with an all diabetic roster?

Yeah, every race we go to there are people with diabetes who come up to us and want to talk, they make big signs and you can see that we have achieved something. It’s not only cycling, we can inspire people and educate and involve people. It’s good for the team also; we have the most followers on FaceBook of the professional teams.

PEZ: I read an article about that, it said your team interacts more with your followers on FaceBook and Twitter than any other team.

Yes, if someone asks something about diabetes, then we will respond. People can visit the race and talk to us, it’s very important. I think also we will have a good year this year, the team is bigger and we can do more. (You can check out the team’s facebook page here)


PEZ: Last year was the first year of the team being all diabetic riders, wasn’t it?

Yes and it was a big step, we rode a lot of races in Europe and then we went to China for three weeks, we won’t go to China again for three weeks. I did the Tour of China three years ago and it was OK, but now I did it again and the cities are like four or five times as big. Everywhere there is dust and you see they are building so much that the cities are just getting so big all the time. Lots of new building all over the cities. I was always sick and my lungs, oh!

PEZ: And the clenbuterol?

Yes you have to watch out. Even going to Mexico, the UCI have sent out a letter saying you cannot eat meat and don’t eat chicken, so it’s better not to. We got an email saying not to eat chicken and not to have milk, but our doctor said we can eat eggs, but I don’t eat eggs. I think I’ll buy a big tin of tuna and take a leg of Serrano ham from here.

PEZ: Don’t know if you can take a leg of Serrano ham on an airplane, I think you have been living in Spain too long.

I now have a team mate staying just round the corner from here; Thomas Reymaeers from Belgium, he lives 200 metres from here since January. In Belgium the weather has not been good and you don’t have the mountains. If you want to be better you need to train in the mountains.

PEZ: You rode Milan-Sanremo two years ago, what did you think of the changes they wanted to make to the course?

It would have been totally different with climbers trying to win the race. It’s bad that they want to change all the races with them being harder and with more mountains. I don’t know what Andalucía (Ruta del Sol) was like before, but every day was 3,000 or 4,000 metres of climbing, there were no easy days. I think you have to keep the history of the races, like the Tour of Flanders. You should never change the concept if it’s the best, like if you are making the best car you shouldn’t make another one because then everyone will compare them.

In with the WorldTour teams.

PEZ: Do you still use the monitoring system when you race?

It’s a different machine, but it does the same. It measures your sugar level every few minutes so we can see if it has gone up or down and then you need decide what you need to do, if you should eat something or don’t eat.

PEZ: What is your personal hope for this year?

To get some podiums this year, anywhere, but I like Classics, maybe with some uphill finishes. When it’s a flat bunch sprint I can do the lead-out for Andrea Peron.

PEZ: Did he not have a crash recently?

Yes in Andalucía, it was at the last speed bump, a guy from Giant-Shimano jumped, crashed and took Andrea down, this was with 2 K’s to go, this was at the side of the road and I was behind him and thought I could jump over his head, but I hit his head with the rear wheel. He had a big stripe over his face, but he doesn’t remember anything. I spoke to him afterwards “do you remember?” he said “no, I remember getting to the finish!” That was the day I was 11th, there was one and a half K’s to go and I needed to close the gap as I was 20 metres behind the first 50 riders. So I closed the gap and then the sprint started. I was lucky I didn’t crash, Andrea was also lucky, it could have been worse. The guy he crashed into had a broken collar bone and bandages on both arms; he looked like an Egyptian mummy and also with a stripe across his face.


PEZ: What are you looking forward to most this season?

I’m looking forward to Mexico, it should have some good stages, but I have a little bronchitis, so we will see. Turkey is always good for the team and I like Turkey, although last year I got sick and I crashed in a huge crash on the second stage, do you remember, Renshaw crashed and 50 riders went down. I’m looking forward to California also.

PEZ: What’s it like racing in the U.S. compared to Europe?

It’s hard! So many people are watching in America, in the mountain stages there are more people, if you compare California and Colorado to say Andalucía of that size of race in Spain or France; there are many more spectators. It’s really nice to race in America, there are so many teams and they all go so fast. I remember when I rode Colorado; Riche Porte and Wiggins turned up, this was a month after the Tour de France and they had just started training again and were saying they didn’t know how they were going, they were dropped so fast. So it’s not easy.

PEZ: How do you handle all the travelling?

I change time zones three or four times a year. When people do it once they say it’s super, super hard, but the more you do it; you get a program on how to adjust to it. Going down there is worse, but coming back from Mexico to Drenthe after five days of racing is harder.

PEZ: Is it not hard to race after travelling so long?

The legs get super heavy, but the important thing is to take a lot of fluid and not to train too much the day before getting on the aeroplane.

Important fluids?

One of our team doctors or nurses always measures our blood sugars before races and after each race. Additionally, I send them all my statistics every Friday including how my blood sugars were that week. They respond and recommend if I should use more or less insulin. When you manage your diabetes better, you are more efficient with your power. It’s hard because one day you will train for five hours and you need a different amount of insulin than on a day when you train for one hour. When I do nothing and get to lay on the beach at home in Benidorm for a week, my body reacts differently to insulin compared to when I am training hard. The body is super complex and when you have diabetes it’s complicated. Some of my friends say they know me but they have no idea how complicated managing my diabetes is. For example, if I was racing tomorrow at 3pm, I would have to start thinking today about tomorrow, and considering how much insulin I have to take now. You are always thinking one day ahead.

PEZ: Some riders live by their SRM power meters, but you have to live by your power meter and blood sugars.

Yes I always need to think about my food and my insulin; you have diabetes not only on the race days, but all the time. It’s like you live with something you always need to think about, when you drink, when you eat and when you sleep, everything you do.


Now we know what has been going on in the much travelled life of Martin Verschoor, let’s hope we see his name at the top of a result sheet soon. Check-out Martijn’s web-site for more info, but no coffee included!

And more info on the Diabetes Classic Martijn Verschoor on Facebook, Twitter and the new website.

©David Serrano Photos
Martijn in TT action.

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