Hand-picked as a 15-year-old to take part in a Rabobank cycling training camp, Thomas Dekker progressed with seeming ease and rapidity through the juniors (under 18s) and in to the pro team.
Fully preoccupied with cycling to the detriment of school which he regarded as a jail sentence, he did a variety of part-time jobs to buy new and better bike gear for his bike. The 1600 guilders saved to buy a Campagnolo Record groupset helped his speed, as did adding 10cm in height in a growth spurt.
Thomas signed with Rabobank in 2001. He said he would have crawled on hands and knees to get in.
Signs of his talent were evident in 2002 when he won 22 of his 60 races and was on the podium 40 times. Flying fast – and flying high.
No wonder Thomas Dekker called his autobiography The Descent.
A few stages into his first pro-traineeship race, the team doctor injects him with Actovegin, an extract obtained from calf blood. While not on the doping list, it contained amino acids that aid recovery.
“To be honest, it’s a bit of a kick, a medical man sticking a needle in my arm like that. It all feels very professional” – Thomas Dekker
The Descent of Thomas Decker
The Descent had begun even before he had reached the heights that he would get to.
Turn the clock forward and Thomas Dekker is making his own arrangements, flying to meet Dr Fuentes in anonymous hotel rooms to first “donate” his own blood, which can then secretly be put back later to aid recovery during a race.
The addition of Jacques Hanegraaf as his manager in 2004 fuels Dekker’s “I want it now” attitude. There’s no long-term strategy. “Patience is for losers. Waiting is for duds.”
In Really Good Form
“Blown away like a daisy in a mountain storm” when top contenders put their feet down, Thomas Dekker hears the more senior riders describe how top riders are in “really good form”, an acknowledgement that speaks volumes. “Suddenly” Thomas Dekker notes “I feel like very little boy in a big man’s world” and he didn’t just want to be a big man. Thomas Dekker wanted to be the biggest of the men.
With recent discussion around Therapeutic Usage Exemptions (“TUEs”), it’s interesting to read how these TUEs were exploited to enable cortisone injections.
Thomas Dekker went on to a brilliant career, the highlights of which included winning Tirreno-Adriatico in 2006 and the Tour de Romandie in 2007.
But the Descent wasn’t a graceful landing but a stunning crash when Thomas Dekker was caught doping while with the Rabobank team and was suspended for two years. His return in 2011 didn’t see him able to get back to his former level.
Told openly in engaging style with the help of co-writer Thijs Zonnefeld – a pro cyclist himself before he turned journalist – The Descent has been described as the most revelatory book from inside cycling.
The Descent is a fascinating read of Thomas Dekker’s journey from youthful idealism to a sordid path of excess and doping. Well worth the cover price.