When it was announced that John Degenkolb was leaving Giant-Alpecin to go to Trek-Segafredo what may have escaped the headlines was that his stalwart teammate de Kort was part of the package deal.
The 34-year-old, has spent 17 years riding the professional circuit without a UCI win to his name but he has been an integral part of many victories for team leaders like Marcel Kittel, Luka Mezgec, Nikias Arndt and of course, close friend John Degenkolb.
Cycling Central chatted to de Kort ahead of the Tour Down Under about his change of teams for 2017.
“He’s (Degenkolb) been telling me for a long time that he wanted me to go with him if he was ever to change teams because he said a lot of his victories and his results were because of how I was able to help him. It’s obviously amazing to hear," de Kort said.
“If he leaves to go to another team and takes only one rider with him and that’s me it means that I must have done something right for him. I feel like I could do a good job on a lot of teams but it feels extra special to be able to do that for a good mate. He’s been a teammate for years, he was one of the groomsmen at my wedding so there’s a really good friendship there.”
Disagreements between teammates are far from a new phenomenon in the peloton and having a good leadout man who is one the same wavelength as the chosen sprinter is an irreplaceable attribute. When it’s a rider like de Kort, who can also go deep into the cobbled classics and is a close friend, it’s easy to see why Degenkolb was keen to have his long-time right-hand man switch teams with him.
“It makes it easier to work for someone who’s your best friend as well. We’re all professionals, we get paid to do a job as well but if you really want to do the job because that guy’s your friend, that helps you do that little bit extra. I definitely have that with John and hopefully we can get the rest of the team to have that same feeling.”
At 34 the legs can begin to slow down but de Kort is relying on his experience to put himself and his Trek-Segafredo teammates in the winning position going into the decisive moments of a classic or a bunch sprint finish.
“I think my role is going to be a little bit more towards taking my experience and passing it on to younger riders. Also using that experience to guide the sprinters into the finales. With sprint leadouts a lot of it is experience and just knowing where to be. You obviously have to push the pedals really hard but knowing where to be and where not to be, that has a lot to do with experience and I think that is something I do well," he said.
The Dutchman was very enthusiastic about the move in general, going from Giant-Alpecin to one of the best-funded teams of the World Tour in Trek-Segafredo.
“It’s really, really good, the team I was with, Giant, was obviously a big team and I had some really good years there but now it feels like a bit of a step up with a team that can compete at all races. We’ve got guys like Alberto Contador for GC and my mate John Degenkolb for the classics, we have two guys who can win pretty much everything.”
While the team may have riders like Alberto Contador and Bauke Mollema, don’t expect Koen de Kort to suddenly be haring up mountains on the front of the peloton.
“For me there’s not going to be a massive change, I’m still aiming for the same races and helping John Degenkolb. He was the leader at Giant and he’ll be the leader at Trek-Segafredo in this coming season. I think it’s going to be similar to as it was. We have a really strong team around us though, a bit more depth to support John in the classics. Which is good because I think we’ll have to carry the race a bit more than in the last few years with Giant.”
With a bigger budget and more prestige there comes a much bigger responsibility to work on the front of the peloton and dictate the flow of the race. No stranger to a bit of hard work, de Kort will no doubt be asked to protect GC riders and protect leader’s jerseys if the need arises in stage races or the Grand Tours.
“The biggest difference will be in the stage races. We have guys like Bauke Mollema, Jarlinson Pantano and Contador, some of the best riders in the world in stage races. In Giant, we had Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil but with Trek it will be one level higher in how we’ll have to approach the races and carry the races. In Giant, we could race these races for wins but we weren’t really looked at, we were more in an underdog position. I think that changes this season.”
The other part of experience is that you get to impart it to the next generation of riders coming up through the peloton. Trek-Segafredo have some of the brightest young stars with a rider like Jasper Stuyven potentially going to be a beneficiary of the knowledge of de Kort.
“I’m not sure he (Stuyven) needs a lot of help, he’s arrived already. It’s not going to take him long before he wins the very big races. Not saying that last year’s victory in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne wasn’t a big one, but I think he’s ready to really step it up.
“We’ve got other young riders, like Mad Pedersen, the young Danish guy, coming on as well. From what I hear he’s a really good rider and I’m looking forward to being able to help him.”
For the moment, de Kort is simply happy to be enjoying Australia, where his wife hails from, before the European racing starts heating up.
“It’s always great to be in Australia, I almost felt bad that I had to go away in December to a training camp. But it’s great to be back.”