Climbing talent Wout Poels: With altitude training you feel 2 percent better

Relieved Wout Poels Sunday in the company of Tour winner and teammate Chris Froome to the finish in Paris. Poels has made an important contribution to the success of Team Sky's leader during this Tour de France and was perhaps the strongest rider on the team after his teammate in the mountains. Time for a look at the career of this climbing talent and how important altitude training was in his development. 

Poels: 'I'm not stuck with servants. Sometimes I feel like I could win, but in a team like Sky the discipline is merciless. I was designated as Froome's foreman, and I stick to that. Also with super legs. Sometimes that can be difficult, but I join the team. Maybe I'll also be the leader later. "


We meet before the Tour de France just after the queen stage of the Dauphiné Libéré in a hotel in Megève with a view of Mont Blanc. Poels looks as fresh as a kitten. No trace of exhaustion, no pain in the legs. It seems as if the rider from Venray is made of tropical hardwood.

'The head is more wrong than the legs. I still don't know if I can go to the Tour. That gnaws. It would be a huge disappointment if I wasn't selected. I have driven an excellent Dauphiné, but Sky has several good riders on offer to assist Froome in his throw for a second Tour victory. Sky is a top team and then you always have to wait and see whether you choose the Tour.

Wout Poels (Venray, 1 October 1987) broke through as a climbing talent in 2010 and 2011 with striking performances in the Tour of Switzerland and that of Spain. There is a documentary about the rehabilitation process after his fall in 2012: Return.

"My relationship with Chris is excellent. I'm his slapy. But that is not a professional criterion. The team management takes everything into consideration: the condition of the riders, the characters, the course, willingness to sacrifice. That's why I haven't driven a single day for myself in this stage race, even though I sometimes felt that there was more to it. But for a personal glory number I don't want to risk my participation in the Tour. "

How does a boy from Blitterswijck become the biggest climbing talent in the Netherlands?

Team leader Servais Knaven has a good view of it, he says. 'As a climber, Wout Poels can follow the best. He has reached his top condition. He is hungry for la grande boucle and the leader has faith in his helper. But in the end it is the management of the team that chooses the riders. That is beyond my power. I'm just one of the team leaders. "

Wout and Servais: they care little in modesty. Rather talk about others than about themselves. But the respect for their ambition and professional knowledge is great.

To say it with the words of a soigneur: 'Servais and Wout de-stress the team by their character. Wout in particular can sometimes appear as a cheerful snooper. But ambitious that they are, those two. "

How does a boy from Blitterswijck become the biggest climbing talent in the Netherlands after the generation of Rooks-Theunisse and Erik Breukink? L'Alpe d'Huez and Mont Blanc are not close by. Now Poels has to laugh: 'The height difference in Blitterswijck? Steenbergen and moleheaps for sure. As a young rider, I started racing a lot in Belgium. In the Ardennes especially. Beautiful decor. I soon felt that I had climber legs. It is a talent that is there or is not. Of course you have to train it, but it has to be in you. I think it's something genetic.

'The adrenaline that you feel when you solo on a climb is indescribable. I'm not saying it myself, but someone said climbing is college rates. More importantly, I have always been lucky with the teams I drove.

'Vacansoleil let me go my way. I was a free boy. A program was always set out that took my talent into account. It was different with Omega Pharma-Quick-Step. That team is based on the classics. That's why I chose Sky after a year. "

Wout-Poels-alpe-dhuez'Height training really helps. Afterwards you feel 2 percent better '

Team Sky stands for high-tech and innovation. And for luxury. The team leaders drive Jaguar in the race. Everything is tested to perfection: material, saddle seat, heart and blood, wattage ... That was new for Wout Poels.

Sky don't only look good on the outside, they are good on the inside as well. There are of course few teams with so many financial possibilities. In terms of altitude training, they get everything out of you. After the Dauphiné I will go for another week of altitude training in Châtel. I get a cook and a trainer with me. Good food is guaranteed. Yes, I do everything for the bike.

My first altitude training session was in the thin air of South Africa. The first days back home I couldn't move. After a week, it was as if my legs were singing. Never before had I felt so good. I proved it in Tirreno-Adriatico. I remember that among the amateurs they laughed about altitude training. They were like: busybodies. That was the old days.

High altitude training really helps to reach the top condition. Afterwards you feel 2 percent better. That's why I rented a high altitude tent for the Dauphiné. Sky's extreme perfectionism has helped me. I used to ride on a heart rate monitor, and that was it. Parameters of wattage, heart rate, rotational rhythm were not for me. But at the top, you can't do without, I now know. I have grown as a rider because of the specific, thorough guidance of the team. Although of course you also have to have the will to keep pedalling.


At the age of 13 he started cycling. Because his father had set up a cycling club with friends. Wout Poels was immediately recognized by experts as climbing talent. At a time when the Netherlands no longer had mountain goats. Robert Gesink did not keep his promise due to circumstances. Bauke Mollema still had to explode. The young Poels himself soon felt that he had a few collets in his legs. He dreamed of a life without school and without having to work in some factory.

'When I signed my first professional contract with Vacansoleil, I thought: ha, get rid of that school, get on my bike at 8 o'clock in the morning. That was possible with a good income. My father thought differently. He told me, briefly: "If you leave the school, you go and live on your own." Well, I soon calculated that there would be nothing left. I finally finished my school. "

2012 was a bad year for Wout Poels. During training in Benidorm his father called: "I have lung cancer." He died a year later: euthanasia.

"I won a ride in the Tour of Luxembourg shortly after his death. What went through me then, I cannot retell. A mix of pride and emotion, joy and regret. My father has always encouraged me as a rider. He also often went to the race. My mother a little less, because she has MS. He really was my support and welcome. He did everything with unconditional love, including his work as a representative of oil products. "

The first successes of Wout Poels appealed to the imagination. In 2009 he won the Marco Pantani trophy in the Tour of Murcia. More impressive was his performance in the Vuelta 2011 when he finished second at the monstrous Angliru behind the final winner Juan José Cobo. Big names like Carlos Sastre and Bradley Wiggins died in his wheel.

Later he also won the queen stage in the Tour of the Basque Country. Heavy races that are only reserved for race climbers.

Fate struck in the Tour 2012. "We were on our way to Metz in the sixth stage. It was dog weather. I saw the cyclists move away one by one. A fall was inevitable. I felt terribly miserable after the fall, but I still drove a kilometer further, until the team leader got me off my bike. I did not want to give up, had been looking forward to the Tour with so many expectations.

'The diagnosis was a sledgehammer: torn kidney and spleen, bruised lungs, three broken ribs. There you are as a 23-year-old boy in a hospital with a drain in your pants. Months of rehabilitation followed. The worst was the moment I heard the doctor say: we don't know if he will ever be able to cycle again. A piece of a kidney is gone, but that doesn't bother me.

'Actually, I no longer suffer from that fall. No, I have not become more scared either. I descend like before, not like a wild one, but they don't drive me down a descent either. My mother has been a little more worried since that fall, but I can tell her by heart. "

We are not anorexia patients

Most climbers in the Tour look like nail dwarfs. Small and thin, even on the edge of anorexia. Poels refutes the suspicion. 'Climbers are skinny, even scrawny, but I don't know any riders who consciously starve. That would not help either. You do consume a load of calories in a mountain stage. "What did I eat this morning for the final leg with another big climb? Like breakfast then? A bowl of oatmeal with fruit; an omelet with three eggs; two pancakes; yogurt with avocado; another banana in the bus; rice cake. Yes, we cut away quite a bit. After the race, there is of course a lot of chipping: fish, steak, rice, pasta ... So no, we are not anorexia patients. '

'As a rider you can't go out much. A terrace with the friends and then you have to let the snack snacks pass you by. Living like a monk? That is not how it feels: the bicycle gives a lot back. '

Source: Elsevier & Altitude Dream

About Altitude Dream

Altitude Dream is the market leader in the Benelux in the field of altitude training. For more than 10 years we have been helping athletes realize their dreams and bringing people without altitude sickness to the mountain of their dreams. Altitude Dream is not a company. Altitude Dream is a dream. A dream that leads to the maximum use of our possibilities.