Wessel Krul’s personal motto is “beter worden.” It’s a Dutch term coined by ex-professional cyclist turned gravel racer Laurens Ten Dam which when translated means “becoming better.”
An ethos that the 22-year-old Dutch sprinter applies to his racing, training and nutrition, in recent months Krul has found that he has needed the mantra far more than in previous seasons.
Battling in the spring crosswinds, Krul found himself being dislodged from the peloton far easier than before, struggling to finish on more than one occasion. This was where Krul would usually thrive as an athlete who stands over six feet and with a sprinters frame. He knew something was wrong.
“I suddenly had a weird feeling in my left leg and I couldn’t put the same power down,” he explains. “At the worst point I couldn’t even follow the peloton anymore and I was questioning myself.”
Riding with shorter cranks and adjusting the saddle with his bike fitter didn’t seem to fix the issue either, which concerned Krul.
In June he could finally put a name to the condition – iliac artery endofibrosis. Eri Yonamine has also recently fought back from the condition where the groin arteries’ innermost membrane thickens, leading to discomfort and a significant loss of power.
Team doctor, Paul Jorna, MD explains that “usually the rider feels less power in one leg, especially during two to five minute efforts, and even more when riding in an aero position.”
After months of frustrating delays and second opinions, Krul and Jorner struck upon the issue thanks to the power data supplied by his Wahoo pedals.
Before the diagnosis, 51% of Krul’s power would be applied by his left leg and 49% by his right. However, when racing at 350 watts or above, the weakness in his left leg showed with the reading hitting a 44% low and his right leg becoming more dominant.
With all this happening to Krul among a myriad of surgery dates and postponements, the Dutchman had to stay resilient, something Jorner sees regularly.
“Competitive cycling is a way of life and so recovery from injuries is just one element,” says Jorner. “It’s about learning lessons all the time and taking advantage of that. Decide on how to get back, believe in your plan and then it’s the effort that counts.”
Krul admits that his ability to stay motivated fluctuates through injury.
“Sometimes you have to acknowledge that it’s messing with you,” he says. “You have the good and the bad days but then you need to talk to people who are close to you and keep your head in the right place.”
A crucial part of an athlete’s mindset, when uncertainty creeps in, more serious mental health issues can arise.
“I started to doubt myself,” he says. “Is this truly a real feeling and not just in my head?” He questioned. “It was difficult.”
A huge part of his motivation came from the comeback of Bob Jungels. The Luxembourg climber won stage 9 of the 2022 Tour de France just months after iliac artery endofibrosis surgery which was a source of great inspiration for Krul.
Learning from a setback is also a crucial motivating factor says Jorner.
“Chronic illness or injury is a new experience for young riders who are often addicted to getting better, but this is an experience that they can learn from,” he explains. “Learning how to deal with disappointment is valuable for the rest of your life.”
Krul has been supported by Jorner and the team coaches throughout his injury. Together they created a plan up to the surgery with clear, easy-to-manage goals towards recovery.
These approaches when out of condition can easily be replicated by anyone who is struggling with injuries.
“Being out of condition is a regular disappointment in life,” says Jorner. Embrace the disappointment, and make a realistic plan to come back and enjoy following it. The results will follow.”
Krul’s advice also strikes a chord. “What helped me the most was keeping a regular sleep structure,” he says. “It is so easy to game until late or watch TV and I definitely had that period as if I was in school still, but those small things matter, so keep track of your food and sleep as you have the power to control those elements.”
Pick yourself up. Create a plan. Listen to the experts and control the elements in which you have power.
Wessel now has a confirmed date for his surgery and is raring to get back to racing action in 2023 as a big part of the sprint lead out. Beter worden indeed.
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