The 32-year-old ‘El Tractor’ on how he managed to combine studying with a pro cycling career and what he’ll remember of the 2021 season.

“My life’s work. At some point my parents and also I thought my graduation would stay a dream, but then suddenly I could almost reach the finish line. After fourteen years I finally graduated with a master’s degree in physical education, option training and coaching. It was definitely time I did, as I also have my daughter Marilou now and that made studying a bit harder. I started this master already before I even knew I would become a professional cyclist, so I really wanted to finish it.”

“During training camps, I mostly had one hour per day to focus on school, it also made it a bit easier as I didn’t really need to be present physically for the lectures. During the past years I still had some free time, so it wasn’t the case I was only studying and racing. The theoretical part was quite easy for me as I went to do the exam and that was it, but now I also needed to do some tasks and group work. Luckily, I could finish this within the team, as I did a study about the different roles of the high-performance team and I made the comparison with how it’s in practice. I never thought of becoming a teacher in physical education, but later on when my professional career would end, I would definitely like to be a trainer or coach and still work in cycling.”

Unforgettable moments

“It was a really long, but also super beautiful season. Also because of the short winter period we had with covid. The second part of this season was really good for me, especially the Tour. But then I maybe had my lowest point with the crash. Still, I managed to hold on and to help bring Cav to Paris safely in his green jersey. That was a really beautiful moment. Also this year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen year is unforgettable. It’s so satisfying to know you also have a part in that victory and then feeling how much appreciation you get here within the team just makes that you can give that bit extra.”

“My season ended with the wet Paris-Roubaix. I was in a really good condition, but I had some troubles being on the saddle. Everyone was nervous or had a bit of fear before the start, which was perfectly normal. We had the ideal scenario with Ballerini and myself in the front, then on the road everything was fine, but on the cobbles I just wasn’t feeling great and I never had a steady feeling on the saddle. Next year for me personally we can have a normal dry Paris-Roubaix again in the spring, but of course it all depends on what the weather gods will decide.”

“Now I will take some rest, together with my daughter and wife. I want to come back strongly again next spring for the classics. Long-endurance training is part of that, but you also need some variety otherwise your body doesn’t respond anymore if you only do endurance training. But first some time to relax mentally and physically and then we’ll head towards the new season again.”


Photo credit: ©Wout Beel

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