Kobe Goossens, Down But Most Certainly Not Out
I was lucky enough to have the chance of talking with the very talented Kobe Goossens about life, set backs and his hopes for 2021. The 24 year old Lotto Soudal rider is no stranger to adversities and hardship. Kobe tells us in his own words the physical and mental battles that he’s had to face during his pursuit for greatness and how he's successfully overcome them. There is however a trigger warning for readers as eating disorders and mental health is discussed throughout the interview.
First and foremost, how did you get into cycling and how old were you?
I went with my grandfather and father to a CX race in our village, Baal. I really loved it and since then, my love for cycling started. I was age 7 . My first competition was 3 years later. But it wasn’t a success in the first few years. I got lapped a lot but step by step I improved.
To date, what achievements are you most proud of and why?
The thing I’m most proud of is that I never gave up after all the setbacks I had to face in the past. But if I have to choose a result, then maybe my victory in Tour du Jura in 2019 is what I’m most proud of. Not because of the victory, but because of the road towards that victory. I had to comeback after an ankle fracture. The doctors said I couldn’t ride a bike on high level anymore. But I worked so hard on a comeback, so that this victory felt so sweet and rewarding to me. And most of all I proved I was still able to be a good rider.
What are your main goals on and off the bike for 2021 and how do you plan to achieve these?
At this moment my main goal is the Giro, this is the focus on and off the bike. Last year I left the Vuelta with a good feeling and after my focus turned immediately on the Giro where I want to perform as well as possible. I want to confirm that I can do GC’s in the future and that I made another big step forward. I’ve made a plan with my trainer, Ward Vande Capelle, towards it. And this has to put me in the best shape possible at the start. I'm confidence that it will work out.
What adversities have you faced during your career so far and what did these difficult times teach you?
I have faced a lot of setbacks on my way towards the pro peloton. For example eating problems and mental problems which happened at the same time, lot’s of broken bones in U23 category like shoulder fractures, broken elbow, knee surgery, broken hand and the last one broken ankle. Which they told me, it was the end of my dream to become a pro.
During this time I learned that you’re quite alone when you’re experiencing hard times, so you have to believe in yourself and never ever lose hope and your desire to succeed, whatever they say. There are only few people who stand by your side during hard times. But most of all, those times taught me that you can reach whatever you want in life as long as you keep believing in the process and in yourself. They made me mentally so much stronger. Without them I wouldn’t be who I am now. They made me really realise what I want to reach and what is really important in life. They made my dedication only greater instead of disappear. The most important thing is that you stay positive no matter how bad or how hopeless the situations looks like…
What affects did your eating issues cause to you personally and physically?
It all started as a second year junior. I wanted to lose some weight to become better, to win the world championship CX in Hoogerheide. But then it became an addiction to lose weight and I got too skinny. I never vomited my meals up but I really was on the edge of Anorexia and on the verge of a collapse. It took a long time before I realised I was doing wrong to myself and holding myself back instead of improving. But it’s a problem in your head which is hard to defeat. There wasn’t really a solution but I became quite free in my head after my knee surgery, my season was over and I didn’t felt any pressure anymore. I gained 10kg in the weeks during so I became a normal weight again and this was the tipping point. I’m so happy that in the last few years I can enjoy food again without feeling guilty. I had long term affect which meant that I was quite overtrained because my body was empty, this only became better last year. So it took a really long-time to fully recover.
Do you think there is pressure still in professional cycling to lose weight and have a very low body fat percentage?
Of course there is still a lot of pressure to lose weight and have a low body fat. I’m also sure that there are still some men and women who face the same problem as I faced. But I also believe that there are a lot more people in a pro-team like nutritionists and mental coaches to help and make sure they stay healthy. I think the main problems are in the youth categories where there is less help available, only when you ask. But it’s difficult to ask for help in this kind of situation.
Photo thanks to Gerry Van de Schoot
Who / what helped you the most during three broken shoulders, broken elbow, broken hand and broken ankle, and how did you stay positive and focused through the duration of your recovery?
My sports directors (in CX Kris Wouters and on the road Kurt van de Wouwer) and doctor, Kris van der Mieren, where always there to help me.
But one person who was there all the time is Tim Aerts, my physio and former trainer. He helped me through everything and always believed in me which made me believe in myself and which meant that I never gave up.
I stayed positive and focussed because I always remembered where I was going, what I wanted and what I will be one day. That’s what I worked for during my comeback even when people told me it was impossible. I don’t want to give up my dream so fast, not without doing everything possible to come back.
Do you think there’s a lack of empathy in professional cycling surrounding struggling/mental health issues? If so how do you think the sport needs to change in order to have a healthier and more supportive approach?
I think there was a lack of empathy, and of course it’s still a really hard world but for example in our team there is always a mental coach / nutritionist available who we can go to. So there is already a lot of improvement and I don’t feel like there's shame anymore to talk.
Looking back now what advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoying the moment more instead of always thinking of the long term. It would have given me a lot less stress.
A big thank you goes to Kobe for taking the time during his team training camp to answer our questions. As I’m sure many of your will agree it’s great to see how much support there is at Lotto Soudal for riders mentally and physically. A truly moving and motivating account from the young Belgian.
Good luck to Kobe and his team for 2021! Be sure you keep an eye out for him (especially in the Giro) and be sure to follow this inspirational rider on Instagram and Twitter!