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Karsten Kroom

Profile: Karsten Kroon – From Tour Wins To Shimano R&D

February 16, 2017
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By: Zap

Karsten Kroon (above) spent 16 years as a professional bike racer and although he quit racing two years ago, he still frets about how much dessert he can eat and talks of frequently pinching his stomach to ensure that it retains the acceptable limit of flab (5mm). In addition to owning a construction company in his home of Vronhoven, Belgium, the friendly Dutch rider is also a test rider for Shimano.
We met Karsten at the recent Shimano launch in Calpe, Spain and when he was done pulling us around the mountains at an exhausting and non-stop (“easy”) pace on day two, we sat down to talk about the new Shimano components. Luckily, the conversation evolved to touch on the mindset of Euro pro riders and what it’s like to be a Tour de France stage winner (Karsten won stage 8 at the 2010 Tour when he rode for Rabobank).
RBA: How did you get the gig with Shimano?
Karsten: I am not exactly sure to be honest how it came about, they asked me to do this because of my long career as a bike rider and because I studied mechanical engineering. How they knew about the engineering part I do not know. When the Japanese engineers have some new developments that need to be tested they send it to my house and I give feedback. Or they organize a testing camp, last year we had one in the Alps and one near Madrid, mainly to test disc brakes but we’ve also been working a lot on ergonomics for the new Dura-Ace group sets. At the moment I’m testing wheels.

RBA: When we were talking about disc brakes you mentioned that the Pro riders are hesitant not because they fear new technology, but rather, getting hurt with untested technology.
Karsten: Yes, I mean those guys are on the limit all the time, and often, over the limit. These guys are professional racers and they don’t want to be guinea pigs. It wasn’t until I quit racing that I began to think about the danger of racing. Everybody out there is afraid, but they suppress the fear. They know about living on the limit and taking risks, but they need to be 100% sure of the products they are riding. They know that disc brakes work, but unlike recreational riders they not only think about the potential injury in a big crash, but also the threat to their livelihood.The pro’s know that disc brakes work better in the rain, but they are still hesitant not just because of safety, but they are heavier. Now that Tom Boonen has won a race with discs I think it will start to change some minds because he is a great rider. But even with Di2, I think that if the UCI lowered the weight limit of the bikes the guys would switch back to mechanical drivetrains just because they are that little bit lighter- weight is always a big issue.
RBA:  What is the biggest misconception that most people have about pro riders?
Karsten: Ah, probably that we live rock stars! I know people were jealous of me that I was living my dream, and I was, but it was always so hard. With the all the training, bad weather and hard stages on many days I had to fight against myself to keep going. Being a pro bike racer is not a fairy tale, in fact, it’s very monotonous…all I had to do was either be on the bike or lying in bed recovering!
RBA: What was it like to win a stage in the Tour de France?
Karsten: It was the greatest day of my life. I’m not supposed to say that because I have two children, but still, it was a great day and it came in my first participation. I was very inspired to win that day because the wife of a close friend had recently died and I told myself that all I could do to pay my respect was to win a stage. It was a sprint finish between with 8 guys and as soon as I won I called my mother. And then I called my father who happened to be on a bike tour in Spain at the time. I had some hard feelings with my dad about how we got along when I was growing up, but when I told him the news he started to cry which surprised me because I thought he didn’t care.
Tour de France 2015 - 102a Edizione - 3a tappa Anvers - Huy 159.5 km - 06/07/2015 - Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) - foto Graham Watson/BettiniPhoto©2015

Fabian Cancellara at the 2015 Tour de France aboard his Shimano equipped Trek Domane. Photo: Graham Watson/Bettini.


RBA: When I saw Fabian Cancellara in the yellow jersey with his Trek Domane, I thought that the tables had finally turned and that pro riders would start to adapt more compliant bikes. Now we have bikes like the Specialized Roubaix and Cannondale Synapse joining the Trek.
Karsten: The first thing that pro riders think about are weight and aero. It is easy to identify the effect of a stiff frame by how quick it responds to the pedal effort. It’s much more difficult to measure the impact of a stiff frame on a rider’s body, but the bike brands also push those bikes to be used.


RBA: And what are your thoughts on being a bike racer now that you’re two years out?
Karsten: It’s insane! I can have a helicopter view of the sport now and I haven’t missed it for a second. Still, I am proud for what I have accomplished, but everything must come to an end, that is part of the beauty of life.

Photo: Irmo Keizer

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