Kai the Giant

I'm sure a lot of you who are watching the Omloop het Nieuwsblad this opening weekend had the same thought; who was that guy again? In the main breakaway of the day we found Dutchman Kai Reus. He was riding a very good race all day - being in the attack basically from the opening kilometer - until he had to drop from the lead group in an unfortunate puncture on the final cobbles of the Paddenstraat. The group he was in made it to the finish, meaning he would have finished in the top 7 in the big opening race of the season. Instead he finished 71st somewhere in the middle of the second main bunch of about 50 riders.

His team - Verandas Willems - wasn’t on the original startlist for the ‘Omloop’; the team replaced Giant Alpecin after their horrific crash earlier this season where the main cobbled classics team was hospitalized. Once the team heard they got to race, the manager of Verandas Willems happily proclaimed that TV time was the main goal. Kai Reus surely delivered.

Reus’ final result last Saturday isn’t really that interesting. The fact that he was there at all, let alone riding such a good race, is. If you were one of those wondering about who this guys was, let me just run you through some of his early achievements. Reus was the 2003 Junior road race world champion after winning 5 world cup races and the final classification perhaps the best result for a junior rider in the history of the sport. In all honesty though, I couldn’t name his world championship successor without looking it up so this can’t be why I remember his name. The successor was Roman Kreuziger for those who just needed to know. In the U23 category, he managed to win two world cup races, the Dutch national championships, both road and the time trial, and maybe the biggest of all Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He signed for the then ProTour team Rabobank in 2006, making him ineligible for the World Champs for U23 riders. Basically, he was just so good he never got to become world U23 champion.

He wasn’t signed without reason. He broke through to the ranks of the professionals with his first two wins in 2005, less than a month after his 20th birthday. He won the general classification of the Tour de Normandie, a 2.2 stage race in France, which he reprised the year after, and his first 1.1 race in Belgium, the GP Pino Cerami. The road was paved for him to become one of the greats of his time.

Then, 2007 happened. In a training ride in the French Alps while visiting his teammates that were riding (and at the time thinking they were winning...) the 2007 Tour de France he crashed in a descent. His head was crushed by one of those little walls that are really there to prevent you from driving your car into the ravines. Multiple cyclist have unfortunately lost their lives to these, think of Fabio Casartelli and Wouter Weylandt. Long story short, he was hurt very badly but survived. After 11 days in an artificial coma and a long recovery period he made his comeback to the pro peloton in late 2008, in the Tour of Missouri. In 2009, more than two years after his crash he won again, taking the second stage in the Tour of Britain where he also got to wear the yellow the next day. The comeback was complete, and at 24 years old he had a full career ahead of him.

After a disappointing winter and early season where he got mono and had recurring issues with the injuries from his 2007 crash, he called it quits in July of 2010. Reus ventured in the very Dutch sport of marathon speed skating on ice for a while. But not being able to stop loving the sport, he joined a small Dutch Continental team in the summer of 2011, He had made good progress and moved up in ranks again when he signed for the procontinental United Healthcare in 2012. He won his last individual race to date that year by taking a stage in the Volta a Portugal after a long breakaway with nine other riders.

After 2012, he dropped down to continental teams again where he still is today. He does, however, work with a personal trainer, Jac Orie. Orie is the trainer and coach of the speed skating team of Lotto-Jumbo and has close lines to the world tour cycling team because of it. In October of last year, he was tested and Orie told the team they should get in touch with him, because he was good, very good. Richard Plugge, the team manager of the cycling team didn’t follow up on the suggestion.

Reus got himself in the picture again with his performance. With a couple of years left in his cycling career, maybe his big break will finally come some ten years after his crash? Time will tell, but this has all the potential for one of the greatest comebacks of all time, maybe even a Hollywood film as well.