De Kort, the eternal team player
Koen de Kort has never won a race in his 16-year pro career, but he is one of the most essential riders on Degenkolb's Trek team.
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The photo from Thursday’s sprint finale at the Dubai Tour said it all. John Degenkolb dashed across the line victorious, and in the background, with his hands held high, was Koen de Kort, celebrating an important team victory for Trek – Segafredo.
That’s where the 34-year-old Dutchman is happy to be. Helping others win has been his calling card throughout his 16-year career. In fact, De Kort has never won a pro race. In what’s a measuring stick of his status, a lot of his teammates have.
“It’s true, I have not won many races since my U23 days. I have devoted my career to helping others win,” de Kort said. “For me that has worked very well. Without me, I like to think that a lot of riders would have won less races.”
De Kort is one of the peloton’s old-school domestiques and road captains who have forged a career working for others. In today’s peloton, younger riders are seeing more opportunities to win, especially in early season races and second-tier events. De Kort won plenty of races in the espoirs ranks, including a stage at the 2005 Tour de l’Avenir, but since turning pro later that season, he’s been toiling in the trenches for his captains.
“I am happy with the career path that I have chosen,” de Kort said. “Maybe if I had ridden for myself, maybe I would have won a few more races, and who knows, maybe I could have been a leader on some team myself. But what I am doing now is really fulfilling for me, and I am really enjoying this.”
For 2017, he moved from Giant following eight seasons with the Dutch team to join Degenkolb at Trek – Segafredo. De Kort is not expecting much to change, at least not in terms of what’s expected from him.
“I had been with Giant for quite some time, so it was time to change teams and environment. It really does feel like a step up. And when John made the move, it was that much easier,” he said. “My job will be pretty similar to what I’ve been doing. I am 34, I am not going to change my job description now.”
Getting that taste of victory for Degenkolb and the revamped Trek – Segafredo is key going into the spring classics. A winner of Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015, Degenkolb is keen to get back to his winning ways after sitting out the 2016 classics following the team’s training crash in January last year. De Kort was racing at the Santos Tour Down Under, and missed out on the drama. With Degenkolb healthy and fit, de Kort said the goal is to win at least one of the spring monuments.
“John is so motivated. He had a good end of the season last year, but you can see he is back in his top shape,” he said. “I have found what I am good at, and that’s trying to get deep into the finals at the classics and help John there. We’ve got one of the strongest teams for the classics, and I know John is very excited to get back. I will wait to see exactly what my job will be for the classics, but it will definitely be looking out for other riders.
“We also have Jasper [Stuyven], who is ready to make a step up, and he will get his chances,” he continued. “John is one of the best in the world, he’s already won two monuments already, so there is a good chance for the team. Everyone will be looking to us. The feeling is that we have a team to make some big results this year. We are ready for it.”
After Dubai, de Kort heads back to Europe for a full racing schedule. That means helping out where he can; in the classics, in the sprints or being a road captain in stage races. At 34, he’s not slowing down yet, but admits he’s surprised at some of the young pros racing at the WorldTour level.
“I was thinking about that the other day, for even guys born in 1990, that’s 27 now,” he said. “Born in 1990? That still feels like little babies to me, so that just mean that I am getting really old!”