His wide, infectious smile has perhaps made Bram Tankink the most well-known domestique in the professional peloton. Tankink has seen a host of big names come and go during the 18 years he has ridden at the top level of professional cycling. But everything must come to an end — and so too the Tankink era. Thankfully we are not rid of him just yet. In a new biography of this Low Countries cycling legend, written in Dutch by Ralph Blijlevens, Tankink takes us once more through his life as a professional bike racer, both on and off the bike.
Ups and downs
One thing that makes the book especially interesting is that it doesn’t gloss over the hard times. Although his positive vibe always cheers us up, there is also a deeper story behind Tankink the rider. And that is perhaps more complex than one might expect. But don’t worry, it wouldn’t be a biography of Bram Tankink if it didn’t include a decent measure of amusing tales and whacky anecdotes.
From mountain bike to road racer
The book is split into three sections, and lets us get to know the person behind the Bram Tankink public image. It gives a fascinating insight into how young Tankink’s life on a bicycle began: as a runner at the local athletics club. But he soon realised he wanted to see more of the world, and he concluded that he could go a lot quicker on a bike than running. He saved up enough for his first decent bike with a job delivering newspapers — soon afterwards he was entering local mountain bike races, using someone else’s racing license.
Tankink won the second race he ever entered, and clearly demonstrated he had talent. More victories followed. He saved up enough money and bought a road racing bike to enable him to train more. Not long after he entered the Dutch National Road Race Championships and made a good impression. He didn’t think twice when invited to enter a stage race alongside professional riders. And that’s how he found himself at the start of the Tour de L’Ain riding with an inner tube which had already been repaired 11 times.
Bram Tankink, family man
Tankink’s love for pure cycling is well-illustrated in the very first chapter of the book. He recounts how he, aged 14, cycled with his brother and a friend from Le-Puy-en-Velay to his home in Haaksbergen, the Netherlands. This 1,000km trip took two weeks, and they rode up every mountain along the route to make it more challenging.
But however much Bram loves cycling, he easily puts it aside for his wife, Vera. Before they were married, they once both went out on the town in Maastricht until late at night. The following day, Tankink called in sick. What made that slightly complicated was that he was wearing the leader’s jersey during the Tour of Germany at the time!
The book has a huge range of different stories, and while the chapters are not in chronological order, they give a unique behind-the-scenes look at Bram Tankink’s life and character. Amusing anecdotes are mixed with chapters that deal with more serious subjects. Because behind every laugh, there’s a story, and that’s certainly the case for Tankink. He shares the stories of his challenging home situation when he was a child and how that affected him in later years. We read how he deals with disappointment and the low points of his sporting career — and how he gets back on his bike and starts enjoying life again.
Tankink shares a lot of the ins and outs of life as a professional bike rider in the book: uncertainties about team contracts; not being able to pee for doping tests; and the recurring boil on his bottom are described in gory detail… He also talks about the changes in the professional peloton, and how he managed to survive successfully through almost two decades of professional bike racing.
The book gives a unique insight into the life and mind of our laughing hero. It’s an easy read, and a page-turner. Stories that will make you laugh out loud are balanced with off days and hard times. Once you close the last page one thing is clear: you will only like Bram Tankink more than you did before you started it.