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HARSTAD, Norway (VN) — 26-year-old Rasmus Guldhammer (Cult Energy) notched the latest in a series of strong 2015 results last week with a fourth place overall in the Tour of Denmark. Understandably, a top five in Denmark’s biggest race counts as a notable success for a Danish rider on a Danish Pro Continental team, and it turned plenty of heads in his home country, though it’s not the first time he had pulled off that particular result. In fact, Guldhammer had already found himself fourth overall in the Tour of Denmark once before: in 2009, when he was just 20 years old.
Guldhammer was one of pro cycling’s most sought-after prospects back then, winning the under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and landing a runner-up performance in the under-23 Tour of Flanders that same year. Naturally, one of the sport’s biggest up-and-comers was snatched up by one of the biggest teams at the time, HTC-Columbia, who signed him to a three-year deal starting in 2010.
But then Guldhammer’s meteoric rise came to an abrupt halt. Expecting to continue to win races even as he stepped onto cycling’s biggest stage at an extremely young age, he found himself frustrated by a lack of results, a frustration exacerbated by suddenly being far away from friends and family. It may have been a dream opportunity, but Guldhammer fell out of love with pro cycling while riding for one of its top teams.
Guldhammer and HTC agreed to part ways after just one year, and he returned to the Danish cycling scene, riding for one Continental team after another for a few years as he tried to figure out what it was he really wanted out of his bike racing career.
“I think I expected a lot more than I should have when I turned pro back in 2010. And then I didn’t succeed in my goals, and it was really hard for me,” Guldhammer told VeloNews after a long day on the bike at the Arctic Race of Norway, where he’s hoping to follow up his Tour of Denmark success with another strong performance.
His year at HTC was tough on him mentally — he nearly called it a career entirely, and it took him a year to find his love of riding again — but nowadays he’s starting to see it as a turning point for his development. That development that has taken a lot longer than he and others might have expected at first, but it is really starting to come along this year as he is hitting his stride with results in several big Europe Tour events in addition to the Tour of Denmark.
“It’s always difficult when you’re young and you turn into a professional, you move to Italy and everything,” Guldhammer said. “But you get wiser, and I’m happy that I had that period with HTC, because nobody can take it from me, and even though it was a hard year, I have so many good memories and so many good experiences and for sure I can use that now again.”
That newfound perspective has been critical to his gradual path back toward reaching the potential he showed as a U-23 star. In 2014, riding at the Continental level for most of the year, he picked up a few wins in smaller races and placed highly in others, helping him earn a stagiare spot on the squad at Tinkoff-Saxo. Illness kept him from performing at his best, but he learned a great deal, saying now that getting back into the rhythm of racing with a top team was a “really big thing” for him.
He moved up to the Pro Continental level with Cult Energy for 2015. Slowly but surely, he’s ridden back up through the ranks, and one step at a time, he’s also found himself contending in big races again, with hilly one-day events and weeklong stage races his main focus.
These days, he is less apprehensive about landing immediate results and more concerned with steady development, no matter what it takes. That has been critical to his progress.
“I think the biggest problem when I was younger is that I was a bit aggressive if I didn’t do well in races,” Guldhammer says. “Instead of using that energy in the wrong way, I’ve learned how to control it and use it in the races … And I would never say that I’m satisfied with getting fourth or fifth or anything, but for me, it’s also a big thing to take the time to become better, and not stress about it.
“One of the key things about my season so far is that every little step for me is a really big step, and I’m just loving racing, and I love riding my bike. For me, that’s the key point why I’ve become better in almost every aspect of my racing.”
Having supportive people around him has been equally critical. Guldhammer notes that he follows the guidance of his coaches very closely now, which he didn’t do quite as much early on in his career. A supportive Cult team has put its faith in his development.
“This year, there hasn’t been any pressure from the team or anything. They say ‘do everything as well as you can, and then soon you’ll be better.’ And that has been a really nice, because then I put my own pressure on myself, [setting] which goals I want,” he said.
Unfortunately, funding woes threaten to complicate the situation: Cult needs a new sponsor to continue next season. Meanwhile, Guldhammer is without a contract for 2016. But his attitude about the situation shows just how important the team is to his recalibrated perspective, one that finally has him landing results again.
“It was a big chance for Michael [Skelde, Cult’s sporting director who runs many aspects of the team] to take me into the team and I’m just happy that I could perform and do as well as I’ve done, and I’d like to pay some of that respect back and stay in the team for next year,” he said.
“I haven’t talked with any [other] teams so far because I told Michael that I really wanted to stay here.”
If Cult is forced to call it quits, Guldhammer knows he might have to look elsewhere, but for now he’s holding out for the chance to stick with the squad that has helped him get on track again, supporting him all the way to another Tour of Denmark fourth place after so many years.