‘I really like cycling.’ Theo Bos – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 33

Christian: Today I’m joined by Theo Bos. Theo is triple Olympian, 2004, 2008 and 2016. Amongst his biggest achievements, silver medalist in the track cycling sprint at the Athens Olympic Games 2004. Next, to that, Theo is 5 times world champion in the sprint and 1-kilometer time trial, 4 times runner up at the world champs and 4 times bronze medalist. Theo made the transition to road cycling in 2009 and returned to track cycling after seven years in late 2015 is now preparing for the fourth Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

Welcome, Theo.

Theo: Thank you!

His darkest moment

Christian: Theo your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?

Theo: Darkest moment, that’s a good question. I’d never really had big, major setbacks, but sometimes as an athlete, you have certain goals and sometimes you don’t reach those goals, and that’s difficult.

As an athlete, you have certain goals and sometimes you don’t reach those goals, and that’s difficult.

But I think, my last year as a road cyclist, that was not a very nice year, because I had a lot of crashes and also injuries due to these crashes and a lot of difficulties as a result of the crashes.

I had a problem with my shoulder, I had two surgeries that season. Yes, came back and crash again. So yes, it was really difficult and I had no victories that season. It was not fun.

I joined a new team, MTN–Qhubeka, I was really motivated all winter. I had a really good winter preparation and my numbers were really good. Good power on the bike. And already in the first race of the year I crashed, that was in Mallorca and then a bit later in Qatar I crashed really hard and I had some, cuts in my knee and in my elbow.

And also, I could have come back but when you press really hard, you become also a little bit afraid of crashing again, especially when you have stitches in your knee. You are afraid to just have an easy tumble and then it pops open again. So you get a little bit afraid in the peloton and then that’s also never good because then you are in the back of the peloton because you were breaking earlier than the rest. And then when you are in the back of the  the back of peloton, yes that’s the most dangerous part of the peloton. And then, yes, you see the most crashes there and then it’s better to be in front. So, yes, that was a hard year.

Christian: And what did you learn in that time? What did you learn from that dark moment?

Theo: I learned, that I really like cycling, not only as a sport but just to do it. So sometimes, when you don’t really like to go to a race, it’s really nice to just ride a bike and don’t think about the race. And that’s what you do then. You forget about the race and you don’t want to push yourself too hard to come back again.

I really like cycling.

So it’s better just to enjoy riding your bike and enjoy your life as an athlete. And that I always had, for me it was really relaxing to just go on a bike. And if you do that for a certain time, after a while you start thinking about racing again. And then yes, it’s easy to come back to competitive cycling.

Coming back to your question, every time when you have a major setback, and you end up a little bit depressed, going on a bike was the medicine to feel better again.

Every time when you have a major setback, and you end up a little bit depressed, going on a bike was the medicine to feel better again.

Christian: I could see that when we started training in Alkmaar, prior to the Rio 2016 Olympics, you always had your bike with you, and even in between sets, you took your bike and just casually cycled around for a bit and came back to do your next set, and I remember that I thought to myself ‘This guy really loves cycling.’

Theo: yes, I also think that’s a good method as a track rider to do that between sometimes sets or sessions or intervals on the track, that you just take your bike and cycle. But yes, I think it’s nice too that you are a cyclist, that you also like to ride your bike, yes.

Christian: There’s another thing I wanted to touch on and you were world champion in the track cycling sprint in 2007. 2008 at the world championship, you had a very close race with Chris Hoy, and former head coach René Wolff told me that this race between you and Hoy were the three best heats he has ever seen in track cycling. So, if you were very close with the later champion, you went into the 2008 Olympics as one of the favorites, and then? What happened?

Theo: So, yes, I went to the Beijing Olympics, but I got beaten in the world championships before. I had won the world sprint title in 2004, then I lost it in 2005 to René Wolff, and then 2006 and 2007 I was world champion again.

And then at the world championships 2008, I lost in the quarter-final against Chris Hoy. And at that world championship, you saw the whole level of track cycling was really high level already. And I was also at my best level at that time, so I was a little bit shocked when that happened.

And then I went to Beijing Olympics and my form was even a little bit less than my form at the world championships a few months before, and I knew it was going to be difficult to make a gold medal. And I saw the level of the other riders, because you look at each other in training, and they stepped up their level a little bit.

My form was even a little bit less than my form a few months before, and I knew it was going to be difficult to make a gold medal.

And yes, that 2008 Olympics, I was not happy because I wanted to have a certain level. I wanted to ride 9.9 seconds for example, but I knew I couldn’t reach that time. And then I had the Keirin, which was a good event for me to medal or to win, and I crashed in semifinal because another rider in front of me fell down and I fell over him and then this race was already over. So, I couldn’t even make it to the Olympic final, it was just finished.

And then there was only the sprint left, which I knew, I didn’t quite have the horsepower or the speed to take the gold medal. And then I lost in the quarter-final against Bourgain, who ended up taking the bronze medal. So yes, I left the Beijing Olympics with no medal, that was not really nice.

I left the Beijing Olympics with no medal, that was not really nice.

Christian: How did you recover from that?

Theo: I did one more track race that year, it was European championships, I competed in only the sprint. But already before Olympics in Beijing or around the Olympics, I had already more or less decided to try to go on the road, and I already had talks with the road team of Rabobank. So basically I quit track cycling and was looking for a new goal in my career and I started road cycling.

I was looking for a new goal in my career and I started road cycling.

As a kid, when I started cycling, I was nine years old, I also started with road cycling. So, I was more of a road cyclist, that was in 1994 or 1993. And then I continued on the road until I saw track cycling at the Sydney 2000 Olympics on TV and I said, “Okay, maybe I’m going to try it.” And so I tried and it went really well.

Christian: So, you started in 2000, and in 2004 you were a silver medalist?

Theo: Yes. So, in 2000 I did only one race, basically two big track races on the track, that was the national championships and junior world championships. For the rest, I rode on the road, and I didn’t do any gym work or whatever. I was just a road rider and I also did the team pursuits and was selected for the team pursuit.

And because in training one rider crashed and broke his collarbone, there were some changes in the team and I was able to ride the kilometer also. So I was lucky and I did a pretty good result in kilometer.

And from then on I thought, next year I want to try to become junior world champion in the kilometer time trial. And that happened in 2001. And then, in the year 2002 to 2003 I became better and better in kilo [1 km time trial] and then 2004, I became 3rd at the kilo at the senior world championships and suddenly I became world champion in the sprint.

I was just a road rider and suddenly I became world champion in the sprint.

So I was more of a kilo rider when I was young, and I was also quite good in the sprint which I never really expected.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Theo: Yes, I don’t really have one big moment. There are several really nice moments in my life, but if you say five times world champion, I think the first one is most the nicest world title I have, I think, I felt the happiest with that world title, happier than the other ones.

Christian: Because it was unexpected?

Theo: Yes, unexpected and then suddenly you’re world champion sprint. You know, when you are younger you dream about it, but you never really believe it and when it happened, it made me really proud.

When you are younger you dream about it, but you never really believe it and when it happened, it made me really proud.

Also, my brother was world champion speed skating sprint and I was really proud, that I achieved the same that he did in another sport.

Christian: And what did you learn from that moment or how has it influenced your life?

Theo: Yes, anything can happen, if you just train hard, live for your sport and try to get the maximum out of yourself.

Anything can happen, if you just train hard, live for your sport and try to get the maximum out of yourself.

It can suddenly happen and you’re there. In my case, it looks like I came really quickly to the top, but it was still three years. Three world championships, where I was beaten by faster guys.

So, I was always looking up to them, fighting them and trying to beat them, but suddenly at the right moment, I did beat them. So, yes, anything can happen.

His advice to a younger Theo Bos

Christian: If you could go back in time, 10 or 15 years, what advice would you give the young you?

Theo: Try to get more balance in my life, especially training wise, I was always pushing myself too much. And I think that is what happened before the Beijing Olympics.

I was always pushing myself too much, and I think that is what happened before the Beijing Olympics.

After that world championships 2008, I had a rest period and then we started working really hard again. And if I look back now in my training log book, I think that was too much. At a certain point, I was in a really good condition, but I pushed too much, then I got fatigued and I pushed through the fatigue. In retrospect, it wasn’t good I think.

Christian: Was it a bit of overreaching or overtraining syndrome?

Theo: Yes, I think so. Now I’m much more balanced and also I see the benefit of taking extra rest day or something. I’m not afraid of doing that anymore, but earlier I was afraid.

How his older brother helped him to become successful

Christian: You have already mentioned your older brother, who is seven, eight years older than you.

Your older brother was a successful speed skater right, two times world champion, silver medalist at two different Olympic Games and multiple medals at the world champs.

How has that influenced your career as an athlete?

Theo: I think it’s because of him that I made a medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens because I saw him going to Nagano Olympics 1998, and also in the same year he became world champion sprint.

It’s because of him that I made a medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

He had also quite an interesting build-up to that moment. He was like endurance skater before and then they decided that he must be a sprinter. So, every year he got closer and closer to the top and suddenly he became world champion in 1998 and then the silver medal at the Olympics in the same year.

We lived together until maybe 2000 or 2001, and when I was young, like 10 years old, I saw him already with national team going to training camp, I saw his lifestyle and discipline, that he was going to bed early, I saw what he eats, how he trains, everything I saw from close and he led by example.

I saw his lifestyle and discipline, going to bed early, what he eats, how he trains, everything. He led by example.

He also had a passion for cycling and he gave me advice on what to do, we went for training together and stuff like that. When I was really young I already got a lot of advice from him, and that helped me a lot.

Christian: And did it help you to believe that you can be very good because he saw him…?

Theo: Yes. I thought I must have good genes because he has them so, and…

Christian: Your parents must have good genes?

Theo: Yes. They don’t do any sport. They didn’t do any professional sport or whatever. But yes, coming back to your question, when you go to training together, I always knew I was fast as a sprinter on the road bike. And my brother, he prepares my bike and everything and he had a little gym at home, so all that stuff really helped me, yes I think.

Christian: Why do you think you were successful in the sport?

Theo: I think you need to be a little bit lucky with the genes, you get from your parents. In my case, I’m pretty explosive and I have good endurance as well. Also, the love for the sport and love for training helps me out.

I love training, I love the sport and I love everything about the sport and that helps me.

Because I think my brother, he maybe has more talent than me for riding a bike or for speed skating, but I’m a little bit more, how do you say it? A training animal, I like training more than he did, so that’s why I think it’s balanced out.

But, yes, I think I love training and I love the sport and I love everything about the sport and that, that helps out I think.

His morning routine 

Christian: Do you have a morning routine? How do you get ready for the day?

Theo: Morning routine, I need coffee and I need water. And then, there are periods, where I eat only oat meal, there are periods I only eat white bread with three eggs, and sometimes I eat just bread with peanut butter. But what I liked the most is the oatmeal and coffee. Yes, that’s it.

I need coffee and I need water.

And then just start the day, you already know before what you’re going to train, so look at the program and do your training.

I start training at around 10 o’clock or something, and as the morning session finishes around 12 o’clock, I have a good lunch. And then, what I really need is a power nap.

What I really need is a power nap. Every day I take a 20-minute power nap, and it always lasts exactly 20 minutes.

So, when I’m at home, I’m always every day I take a 20-minute power nap. And it always lasts exactly 20 minutes. Then I wake up.

Christian: You time it or you wake up by yourself?

Theo: I have a sleep app, but I always wake up before the alarm goes, it’s almost always 20 minutes exactly. So that’s really funny.

And after I wake up again and then it’s like a new day, I always feel much better. Then I eat a little snack again and do the second training, the afternoon session. That can be a gym or roller, for example, it changes. One day I do the gym work in the morning, and then in the afternoon, I do something else.

Then in the evening around seven o’clock, eight o’clock I have dinner, followed by a relaxing evening and the next day again.

Christian: How many hours of sleep do you need?

Theo: I need minimum of eight hours or eight and a half hours. If I have less than eight hours, I need to catch up the next day or later in the week because I feel it the rest of the days. Sleep is really, really important for us as athletes, I always feel, if I don’t get enough sleep, I trained for nothing.

Sleep is really, really important for us as athletes, I always feel, if I don’t get enough sleep, I trained for nothing.

I don’t feel my body is recovering or it feels like it costs too much energy. You’re just breaking down.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How do you prepare for important moments?

Theo: Like now, we have world championships in one month and what I was really like is that to look back at what I did in the same period before world championships in previous years. What training did I do? What power did I put out? How was my build up? And then I always try to improve that a little bit.

I like is that to look back at what I did before the world championships in previous years. And then I always try to improve that.

I know, if I have certain numbers in power for example, if I can do a sprint with a certain speed or if I can do Power Clean a certain weight. It’s almost mathematic, I know if I can do this, then I can do this time on the kilo for example. And this is a little bit what I am looking up and I’m holding on to that. And if the numbers are good, I also feel good in the head, I feel secure and sure that I can do it.

And then you think about “Okay, I have world championships in three, four weeks.” I visualize and see myself standing in the start gate, and then you visualize the whole race, and that also always really helps me. Just to say, okay, the first 60 meters I’m going to do that and then after half lap, I’m going to do that after one lap accelerate more and stuff like that.

Christian: And the visualization just happens or you take a deliberate time for it?

Theo: When I’m closer to the race, I take time for it and think about the race, it’s really important to prepare. Because sometimes, before a race you get a little bit afraid or anxious, but in the end as an athlete you have to face it, you just have to stand there and you just have to do it and deliver.

Sometimes before a race, you get a little bit afraid or anxious, but in the end as an athlete you have to face it, you just have to stand there and you just have to do it.

And that’s also the nice thing about sport, it’s really scary sometimes, but when it’s over and you have a good result, it’s the best feeling you can ever have.

How to overcome fear

Christian: If you are scared or anxious, how do you overcome the fear?

Theo: At one moment, you just have to face the music. You just have to do it. And then it’s almost autopilot, so you just go there, you sit in the machine, if you are doing kilo, and then it’s just pushing on the pedals and produce, it almost goes automatically.

Christian: And then I want you to come back to that point you mentioned earlier, where you said you have all the numbers in your head, endurance, speed, strength, what whatsoever. And if the numbers are good, you have good feeling. What do you do if the numbers are not good?

Theo: Yes, that happens also sometimes and then you have to work with it and you have to be the best you can be. So, it’s nice to have good numbers and most of the time the numbers are good enough and that everything worked out well. Like the whole periodization would work out well, that’s a very good feeling. But sometimes it’s not good and then you still have to be strong in the head and give 100% at the race. So it’s very important to understand, that you can still win a race, even if you’re not at 100%.

It’s very important to understand, that you can still win a race, even if you’re not at 100%.

Christian: And then you say, that you need to be strong in the head, and I would like to dig into that. How do you stay strong in the head and make sure that the negatives thoughts are not taking over?

Theo: Yes, that also happens sometimes that you are just thinking “S…, I trained for nothing and what did I do wrong?” Still, you will have to maintain hope every day it will become becomes better. But yes, if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come. And then you have to get 100% out of the legs still.

Then there’s also a mental game like yes, how can I explain it? Because sometimes it’s easy to say, “You know, I just give up. He can beat me and then I’m out, you know.” But you must not do that. You must always fight, even if you are not 100%.

It’s easy to give up at times, but you must not do that. You must always fight, even if you are not 100%.

And has a track cyclist that doesn’t happen that often. But on the road for example, that happens a lot of times. A lot of times you’re not in a peak condition, then there are also stages that don’t suit you really well and you still have to finish the race or survive this line and then you can sprint to victory. So, yes, it’s a little bit different on the road, but on the track most of the time you get at a certain level you want and you planned for.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks when things don’t go your way?

Theo: When you have setbacks, yes, as I said also earlier in the interview, it’s just about making new plans and set new goals. But first of all I just get back on the bike as a medicine, just enjoy riding my bike and go for a coffee ride with friends.

When you have setbacks, it’s just about making new plans and set new goals.

And then go out there, because what happens, you focus so much on that one race and only this race exists in your world and if you fail in that race the whole world collapses. But the next day the suns still goes up, the world keeps turning and things are normal again.

So, yes, I get back on the bike and then you have certain people around you that help you plan towards the next goal or next race. You make new goals and you make a new plan. And at one point you follow the plan and you start having a good feeling again. And then you start getting hope again that you will perform well and then that happens, you perform well again. It just goes up and goes down and it goes up and goes down, very simple.

His role model

Christian: Who’s your role model?

Theo: I don’t really have a role model, I never really had one. Of course, as I mentioned before, my brother was a big example for me and he helped me a lot of times during my career. And when I was young, I really looked up to him and I learned a lot from his career also. So, in a way, I think he is the role model for me.

But other than that, I didn’t really have like, I don’t know, like Michael Johnson or Johann Olav Koss or something. I never had that.

His interview nomination

Christian: You want to nominate someone to be interviewed? You mentioned the name Johann Olav Koss, he has been nominated by Olympic champ 2010 Mark Tuitert but hasn’t responded to my interview request yet, so you need to choose someone else.

Theo: Okay, maybe another speed skater or someone from the short track team. Maybe, Sjinkie Knegt, if he’s getting back and he has the time, maybe it’s nice.

Where can you find Theo Bos

Christian: Where can people find you?

Theo: Online. People can find me on Instagram and Twitter, and our team on BeatCycling.Club.

Theo’s social media profiles

Instagram

Twitter

Beatcycling.club

Facebook athlete page

Christian: Thanks for your time.

Theo: Thank you. Thanks.

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