Gloag and Hessmann’s pink adventure: ‘An unrealistic but unforgettable movie scenario’
The Giro d’Italia was a big success for Team Jumbo-Visma. On the penultimate day, Primoz Roglic took the lead in the Italian cycling race. One day later, he and his teammates crossed the finish line in Rome as winners. Two of them, Michel Hessmann and Thomas Gloag, had their debut in a grand tour.
The lead-up to the Giro was a little different for Hessmann (22) and Gloag (21). While the German was notified early on about his participation, the Briton received a last-minute call due to force majeure. “I had to be ready to start my first grand tour in less than 24 hours. I had to drive headlong into Italy during the night. I never intended to participate in this tour this year”, Gloag says. Wilco Kelderman, Robert Gesink, Tobias Foss, Jos van Emden, and Jan Tratnik were forced to withdraw from the Giro due to injuries and COVID infections.
Hessmann, however, had been working towards his main goal for the season for some time. “In November, sports director Grischa Niermann came to see me. He grinned and told me that something was coming up that I should prepare for. I somehow understood what he was talking about”, Hessmann admits. In December, the German was told he could prepare for the 2023 Giro d’Italia.
Asked if he was ready for his grand tour debut, Gloag is adamant. “I can hardly say that I had the perfect preparation. I just let my mind go blank. That didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t need to consider it for even a second. I packed my bags and went to Italy to join my teammates.”
Neither rider was sure of what to expect. “The essence of cycling is the same in every race. But you cannot compare a grand tour with smaller stage races. The race’s surroundings are ten times larger than usual. I got goosebumps and realised I would start a grand tour the moment I stood on the podium at the first time trial”, recalls Gloag.
For Hessmann, that realisation came a day later. “In the first stage, I noticed how much was happening around the race. It was nothing like a typical course. I thought to myself: something will happen in the next three weeks.”
Anyone who thinks both riders travelled to Italy to gain experience would be mistaken. “With Edoardo Affini, my responsibility was to perform a lot of effort at the front on the flat and the short climbs. The right positioning is to keep the guys out of the wind. Things like that”, says Hessmann, explaining the task he was given beforehand. Gloag: “Even though my preparation was far from perfect, my goal was to choose a couple days to ride at my top level. I also aimed to perform well on the other days.”
Deep into the third week, which was predicted to be the toughest, both men made their presence felt. “It was a surreal image for me too. I was at the front of a peloton of world-class riders and men who weighed around 60 kilos”, Hessmann recalls enthusiastically, reflecting on several challenging mountain stages. “It was an amazing experience. It was such an adrenaline rush.”
"It was so extraordinary"
The time trial on the penultimate day of the 2023 Giro d’Italia would create the perfect cliffhanger if it ever made it to the big screen. “That day still gives me goosebumps”, Gloag reflects wistfully. “It was so extraordinary. The crowd of Slovenian cycling fans gave me so much extra power. I enjoyed every inch of it. The climb was tough, but I felt no pain because of the enthusiastic supporters. And then the unprecedented climax with Primoz. Undoubtedly, it was the best day of my cycling career so far. Wonderful!”
For Hessmann, too, it was the best day of his life. “This script would undoubtedly be rejected if a movie director submitted it because it lacked credibility. That day, everything came together. My girlfriend warned me that morning that things might not go Primoz’s way. I refused to believe it. I was so nervous. I was sure that Primoz would finish it off. It just had to be so. It all came together on that one magical day on Monte Lussari.”
Both Gloag and Hessmann are already looking forward to the next grand tour. “In a team as strong as Team Jumbo-Visma, it is far from certain that you will be part of a team that starts a grand tour. However, the Giro experience has inspired me to put in even more effort to experience this again in the future”, Gloag says.
"I regretted that the Giro was over"
Hessmann: “It may sound ridiculous, but I regretted that the Giro was over. I immediately felt that I wanted to do a grand tour again. I regret not racing the Vuelta a España this year, for example. Though riding two grand tours in one season is not realistic at this stage of my career.”
Both riders have enjoyed not only the experience and the overall victory but also riding with each other. “Tom is an incredibly nice guy and a great talent. He has a great sense of humour and is really present. But he speaks less when he is tired. For example, he spoke for only one hour in seven days of high-altitude training”, Hessmann grins. “During the last Giro, he was important for the atmosphere in the team.”
“Michel is typically one of those riders you’d rather have on your team than riding against you”, Gloag says. “He can make the race challenging. He has a great personality, too. He will undoubtedly continue to get better over the coming years. Hopefully, we will do another grand tour together in the future.”