You imagine Antwan Tolhoek had to break through some walls to get a slot on the Lotto Jumbo squad for the Vuelta a Espana. First there was the task of getting a slot on the Roompot team in 2016, then making the leap to the World Tour this season.
So maybe he was ready for the next one, albeit an invisible one that sent him cartwheeling over his handlebars on the opening Team Time Trial in Nimes. Then again perhaps he wasn’t.
Footage showed Tolhoek’s fate. Sitting fifth wheel in the Lotto Jumbo train he suddenly came to an abrupt halt, as if someone had inserted an invisible and immoveable pole into his front spokes. Over he went in an almost perfect forward role, bike still attached to his hands and feet, until he hit the concrete. He didn’t have time to wonder what had happened before team mate Floris De Tier, in the position behind him, rode over his head, before crashing himself.
For Tolhoek it was a case of what to think about first – the invisible wall, or the fact that his teammate De Tier, whose company he’d probably enjoyed only minutes before, had used his head as a power trainer.
But at least he had shock to think about. De Tier had only the looming concrete, the now unfortunate features of his teammates’s face, and then a difficult landing on hard ground to keep him busy. Not for him the oblivious nature of a sudden crash, the “what just happened?” daze that can be a blessing. Instead he had that agonising second spent fully aware that his world was about to become very painful.
Tolhoek’s was quickly back on his bike, in the manner of a ship wreck survivor grabbing a passing life jacket first and wondering what sank the boat later. It was quite the first taste of grand tour racing. De Tier meanwhile followed some way behind, unable to pin point exactly what moment in the last two minutes to curse.