The Dutch Yellow Jersey Drought

Alpe d'Huez Dutch Corner Orange Tour de France

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The Netherlands has a rich cycling history with various Grand Tour winners and at home, a cycling infrastructure that is the envy of the rest of the developed world. Yet somehow, a surprising statistic is that the Dutch find themselves not having worn the yellow jersey since the 1989 Prologue stage.

The support on the 7th hairpin, now known as Dutch Corner, on the Alpe d’Huez shows the love that Dutch fans have for the Tour de France. The passion and craziness amongst the sea of orange as the riders climb the iconic climb is testament to this. With the Alpe providing the last meaningful action in this year’s Tour, we can be sure the whole mountain will be a tunnel of fans supporting their favourites.

Alpe d'Huez Dutch Corner Orange Tour de France

On the Prologue stage held around Luxembourg in 1989, Erik Breukink beat the challenge of GC contenders Laurent Fignon, Sean Kelly, Greg LeMond, Steve Bauer and Miguel Indurain by between 6 and 10 seconds. Winner of the White Jersey for best youth the previous year, he ultimately withdrew from the race and didn’t reach Paris, but finished on the podium in 1990.

1989 Erik Breukink Prologue Tour de France

Erik Breukink on his way to winning the 1989 Prologue.

The beginnings of the drought

With 11 different Dutch Yellow Jersey wearers in the 80s alone, there was nothing to suspect that a 26 and ongoing year wait was in store for the next one. No Dutch rider has finished on the podium in Paris since Breukink’s 1990 result with the closest being Robert Gesink’s 4th place in 2010. For most of the 1990s and early 200s, Michael Boogerd became the great Dutch hope, a 5th place in 1998 a sign that hopefully he would kick on and potentially end the drought.

Michael Boogerd Tour de France

Michael Boogerd

Boogerd only ended up with one other top 10 however, a result of 10th in contrasting with a low point of being the highest placed Dutch rider in 74th in 2004 (the worst ever result for Dutch riders). For most of that time there were still stage wins to fall back on, but even these dried up. After a run of 40 years out of 44 with a stage win, Dutch riders didn’t win a stage between Pieter Weening’s victory Stage 8, 2005 and Lars Boom winning on the cobbles of Stage 5 in 2014.

Not all Dutch Doom and Gloom

The Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin had a great chance to break the run in this year’s first stage and was the favourite but ended up finishing 4th in Utrecht with Jos van Emden in 5th. With an in-form Dumoulin, future prologue style Stage 1s could see the Dutch run finish.
This far into the race, it’s no surprise to see the pair of Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema as the highest rank Dutch riders, but being close to 3 minutes back already it will be a tough ask to haul themselves into Yellow at any stage and so the run should continue into 2016.

2015 Tom Dumoulin Utrecht Stage 1 Tour de France

Tom Dumoulin, Stage 1, 2015

THe upside to 2014 was a double top-ten result with Laurens Ten Dam in 9th and Bauke Mollema in 10th. If these riders and Robert Gesink perform to their potential and attack similar stages to the Mur de Bretagne early on then they do stand a chance of reaching Yellow.
praying for wind.”

July 2019 Update: It’s over! Mike Teunissen won the first stage of the 2019 Tour de France to be the first Dutch rider in yellow since Eric Bruekink 30 years before.

2 Comments

  1. As a young Dutchie who has been watching the tour closely for nearly 10 years now (thanks to my dad’s enthousiasm), I have been well aware of the strange lack of Dutch successes despite how much cycling is ingrained in our culture. I would like to point out though that we have been dominating in the Women’s bicycling for a long time now.

    My thoughts on the following things:

    Dutch drought – The Dutch drought is actually much bigger than just the lack of Dutch serious GC contenders. In the last 12 years or so, there have only been two Dutch stage-wins. In fact, it was the lack of stage wins that was much more discussed in Dutch media than Dutch GC contenders. I don’t know how many times I heard the sentence ‘Its been 5/6/7/8/9 years since Pieter Weening won that stage in the Tour de France’. There was a huge feeling of elation when Lars Boom finally took a stage last year.

    Boogerd – I loved the guy. Well, I still love him a bit but that love took a big hit when he admitted to using doping. I mean, I can’t really blame him that much considering basically everyone was doped up in the years he rode, but I don’t like that he waited so long and strong denied having used doping in the years before. And I also don’t like that he refuses to name names or help with cleaning out the sport. But he was a great rider. I never saw him as a GC-contender. He was more of a sub-top rider who had the potential for some cool stunts.

    Rabobank – For a long time I equated Dutch success with the Rabobank team, regardless of the nationality of its riders. I was absolutely crushed when Rasmussen was pulled from the race just after he seemed to have secured the GC 1st place for himself. His dogged defense against Contador’s relentless assault in the mountains still remains fresh in my mind. Such a shame he turned out to have been a f*cking liar.

    Gesink – For a long time Gesink was treated in the media as a young super-talent who was going to be as big as Contador one day. So year after year there was great disappointment when Gesink fell apart again and again. Though to Gesink’s credit I have to add that he seemed to suffer from an unusual amount of bad luck. He was involved in a number of crashes over the years that injured him so badly that he could not ride at 100%. Its also a shame that Gesink was always pushed so hard as GC contender because that made him dangerous to the other GC contenders, meaning that Gesink was never allowed to focus on obtaining glory through winning individual stages – something I think he could certainly have done, and might still do one day. Winning the GC seems doubtful though, I think he falls short by a small bit in talent and strength.

    Mollema – I feel Mollema is still a rising star. Mollema started racing at quite a high age, so while he is not a young rider, he is still relatively fresh to the whole racing scene. I think Mollema is a potential GC winner, though he will certainly have to grow more for that to happen (and for Froome to not participate, hehe). Mollema is the best Dutch climber at the moment, and he seems to better handle the pressures of being a center of Media attention and a GC-contender than Gesink (who I feel always had a bit of difficulty dealing with the pressure and expectations). Mollema was certainly THE surprise of the year for me in the Tour de France of 2013, where he ended up 6th in the GC and also, to my great surprise, rode a fantastic Time Trial (for a climber).

    Ten Dam – Ten Dam is not a GC-contender, and he is usually seen as a Domestique. I have nothing but respect for the man, though, and he completely outdid himself last year. He is a very humble, down-to-earth man who can take pretty much anything and still keep going. Case in point, he was involved in the Crash that took out Tom Dumoulin last week. He dislocated his shoulder, but insisted that it be popped back in so that he could continue riding, which he did. Ten Dam is just amazing.

    Future Dutch successes – There are some light-points for Dutch cycling. Gesink seems to be growing in confidence (finally) as the years pass, and Mollema should be able to do more better thank Gesink. There is also a new generation of Dutch cyclists making their appearance. Tom Dumoulin is the best known of these, and seems to be a potential Time Trial champion. There’s also a few very young potential sprinters coming up, and people like Wilco Kelderman might turn out to have what it takes to bring the Dutch some much-needed successes.

    • Thanks for the comprehensive comment, found myself unable to disagree with any of it as your assessment of the Dutch GC guys are pretty much in line with mine.
      I think for me Boogerd was almost the mark 1 version of how you describe Gesink – I distinctly remember him being bigged up in Tour de France magazine previews (pre-internet, starting to show my age…) around 1997 or 1998 as having the potential to be the next great Dutch GC rider. As it was he’s followed the now usual pattern of being good, but not great.

      If you’re looking for positives it’s that the chances are coming, With the Prologue type stage now back in the Tour and Cancellara probably not in any future Tours, Dumoulin has a real genuine chance each year.

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