INTERVIEW | Jens Dekker talks about comeback to cyclocross, GCN commentating and 2023-2024 ambitions

Cycling is full of riders who have felt first hand the difficulties of the sport and the struggles of being a pro even if you have the physical abilities to do so. Jens Dekker is one of those riders, a cyclocross rider who battled against Tom Pidcock and Eli Iserbyt in the past, who is now making a comeback to the sport after three years.

"I don’t love calling it a comeback, because in my head I never really quit," Dekker said in a post back in June of 2023, where he announced his intentions to return to being a pro cyclocross rider. This is the main point of a story that has been developing over the past few years, with plenty ups and downs; and interesting twists. This is another one of them. The 24-year old from Fluitenberg, Netherlands, is back to the cyclocross field three years after announcing his retirement.

To understand why this was such interesting news to me we have to go back to December 2021. At the time, as someone who began following the entire winter of racing, I became interested in Jens after discovering his prowess in the early years of his career, and how it ended in early 2020 with a very short season, inconsistent results, but noticeably a victory in the under-23 Koppenbergcross - one of the toughest and most popular crosses in Belgium.

Nephew of Tour de France stage winner Erik Dekker and cousin of Team Arkéa Samsic's David Dekker, it is safe to say cycling runs in the family. Not only in interest, but seemingly in genetics, as all three riders became winners in their own right. At the time I talked to Jens and learnt about his story. Breathing problems, food allergies, a combination of physical and psychological barriers stopped him from having the consistency a pro rider needs, and he ultimately needed a break from the demanding routine.

"It all sort of came together and then at some point there was just one person I went to who sort of got to the bottom of the whole thing" he shared with me now, just off the back of a training ride. At the time Jens gave me the impression of someone who hadn't yet given up on cyclocross, and hence when he revealed his comeback to the sport I experienced a mix of an 'I knew it!' and satisfaction, as his words conveyed an important message which is that he could once again train regularly and was very positive on reaching a very high level once again.

"I’ve done my best power numbers for every duration I’ve attempted above around 40 seconds," he claimed. For a rider who has been in the past a Junior World Champion, and climbed with Tom Pidcock and Eli Iserbyt in his under-23 years, this says a lot. "It doesn’t feel like a comeback to me, because there was never a point in my head where it clicked that I don’t want to do this anymore. That wanting to do it has always been there, It’s just that I couldn’t."

The cyclocross season has now officially started. The Dutch rider is racing for Babies Cycling Team, the very same team he raced for before taking time off the sport. Ever since he's been a notable figure on social media commenting on the discipline and analyzing courses. He also trains a few riders in his local club, and for the past years has continued to enjoy the challenges of cyclocross tracks.

"I can’t do the full two evenings a week two hours per session, it’s just too much to do within a season when you’re trying to perform, but I’m definitely still involved," he says. He never left cyclocross even in the hardest of times, and that ultimately payed off as he became a commentator for the Global Cycling Network (GCN), who have gathered a large array of races throughout the year after the creation of their new platform.

"I always really wanted to do I think, it was kind of a childhood dream in the same way as I wanted to be a cyclist. In that same way I also wanted to commentate on cycling when I was done with cycling myself. It’s something that I always wanted to do and you know, when my parents are watching the races with me I can give some background information I always tended to do that even when I was a little kid," he shares. "So it was always in there and then at some point I just got an opportunity to be put into the system and it’s a good experience from there."

And now as September rolls in, so do the first races of the season. Dekker got a hand injury in the past few months which forced him to do a lot of training within his home. But after the bone healed enough, he's resumed his cyclocross specific training. However he's not yet fully recovered: "I still feel it racing and training as well, it’s not great but it’s manageable," he assures. "Basically it’s just that the bone had to heal as much as it could before I started doing things again but the tissue around it is just not recovering. It can’t recover as quickly, it’ll take about three months still so yeah I’m gonna have pain everytime I get on my bike... Just a bit annoying, I can’t do everything I’d like to do."

However you wouldn't tell from the results. He's gotten back to racing this past weekend in Germany, immediately with a third place in Lützelbach behind Loris Rouiller and Baloise Trek Lions' Ward Huybs - but directly ahead of a few recognizable figures including Marcel Meisen. "I don’t really think the result was that important at this point, obviously it was great to have a result at this point but I was just kind of happy that I was able to do a full cross race," he commented. "And I mean nothing was perfect I made a couple mistakes, there was a crash, all kinds of different things that didn’t feel great..." Yet despite this, he's completed the race in the podium. The next day he finished sixth in Bensheim, where teammate Stan Godrie took the win.

"Just the fact of me having raced a full hour, just the racing was good enough for me, if I had finished 12th it would’ve been fine as well. I really don’t care about the results at this point, just the fact that I’m racing is really good," he points out. A mentality that he's made clear. After going through a lot of adversity, being part of the competition again is already a win of itself.

"My mindset has completely changed, I’m a different person I’m a different rider. I was always chasing results and at this point I know that the results will come probably at some point, it doesn’t matter if it’s this week or in five weeks time or even never. The results at this point don’t really matter to me, I’m just enjoying the fact that I’m riding again and riding at this level."

This weekend in Mechelen he races in the Netherlands, for the first time since Hoogerheide 2020 when it comes to top level competitions. More races will follow. What's in store from him? He defines his goals in a different way than what we usually hear. "I want to race consistently, I just wanna start races, finish races, then race at a decent level that I’m just going to enjoy myself. I’m going to race cross races that’s basically it. I think that sort of goal is just to race, at this point that’s good enough," was his answer. "I think that I’ll get to a decent level, but that’s not the most important thing at this point. I don’t have any specific goals when it comes to results or specific races. When I won the World Championships, I said ‘I want to win these World Championships’ from 11 months out and it’s just not a good mindset to have."

A pursuit of enjoyment is one that in my eyes knows no limits, since it is not dictated by a number in a results sheet. Dekker never really quit, and now he will have a second chance to prove his worth. "Whenever the opportunity came I would’ve started riding again, there was no question about that really. It was kind of inevitable."

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Cyclocross Interviews Jens Dekker

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