The experienced Belgian on what it means to be a scout and constantly search for the stars of tomorrow.
“I started in the team as a soigneur in 2003. I already scouted young riders back then. When we launched the development team Etixx-IHNed, which was later named Klein Constantia, it comprised riders that I had discovered. Before we had this development squad, we were already organizing three testing days with Koen Pelgrim and Tom Steels in Kortrijk, and all the best juniors of the world came to this testing. Julian Alaphilippe, Florian Sénéchal and Yves Lampaert are just some of the riders we discovered there.”
“I follow the juniors from close. There are certain races I really circle in red, where I know you take the best guys out. Now we have a Devo Team, so there’s a lot of interest from guys that want to come. You need to have a feeling for it, but especially be on it day and night. The nicest thing is the appreciation and respect you receive from those young guys. On the other hand, you can also have disappointments sometimes, when a rider chooses another team.”
Support in the good and bad times
“I make contact with riders on the races or on social media. During the winter training camp, we had some juniors with us and I was the one sleeping in the food room, where riders can grab some snacks or recovery meals. I was doing a massage of one young guy and Rémi Cavagna came in and said ‘if I didn’t have Johan, I would have worked as a baker’. I’m only a small piece of the big story, but still when a pro rider says this it means a lot to me and especially to those young guys. It’s up to the rider to make the right decisions and train well, but I try to keep contact also with those guys when it goes less well and not only when they win. It’s important to make a bond.”
“Every Monday I receive a lot of messages of riders and how their races went. My task is to take out the best ones and the ones with the best characters, as that’s very important to make it into your career later on. I have the testing numbers of the riders, but most importantly also info on their background. When they come in the Devo Team, they should be ready to live as a semi-pro. Everything evolves, ten years ago it was a big thing when a young guy had a trainer, now they already think about having a manager. It’s difficult to keep track of guys who get promised a lot, as I can’t give any pro contracts but I’m constantly searching guys for the Devo Team.”
“After a few years spent in a different team, being back with Soudal Quick-Step feels like I came back home. The whole World Tour Team also helps in this story of the Devo Team. The guys who came to the winter camp really had a nice welcome and I get a lot of help from the mechanics when they need something for their bike. I am a scout, but at the same time I still do a part of the job of a soigneur as well. I go with the Devo Team to some races, so they feel they can talk to me anytime. They know they can count on me.”
Of course, the long-term goal is to have a lot of young riders of our Devo Team making the step to our World Tour Team.
“But the competition coming from the other teams is big. It’s a pity for the club teams, when you look to the top ten of for example Gent-Wevelgem you barely find a name that’s not riding for a Devo Team. A lot of guys also first focus on their studies and then only start to focus on cycling as a junior. My hope is that we don’t only have one top rider coming out of the Devo Team, but multiple top talents and that everyone works together on this same goal. I hope to show to those young guys this team is a real family. When they see Remco Evenepoel being the referee on a football match during winter camp, I guess they can feel the same thing we all feel in this team.”