Ahead of his debut for the Wolfpack, the 27-year-old Belgian talked of his first weeks with the team and his role in the upcoming season.

Our second training camp in Calpe is behind us. Everything went well, although in the first few days I felt a bit ill. Luckily, I feel a lot better now and it didn’t really affect my training sessions. I have to say that I’ve never felt uncomfortable in the team since my arrival. I’ve been well received by my teammates since the first training camp in December. I immediately got along well with everyone. It still is the case, both with the other riders and with the staff members. They think of everything before you have to think about it or ask them, even about the smallest details. Everyone is very passionate about cycling and excellent in what they do.

It’ nice to have four riders from our training group, De Melkerie, in the squad: Tim Declercq, Yves Lampaert, Stijn Steels and myself. It has made my integration within the group even easier than it already was. I’ve known Stijn and Tim for a long time. We were together at Topsport Vlaanderen, our first team as professional cyclists, and already training together back in those days. Even though we’re really close, we don’t want to spend too much time together. I can imagine it’s not that nice for the other guys. But we consider each other as true friends. We may have met in cycling, but we do loads of stuff together outside of the training rides and races we do. Like real friends and not just colleagues. How come we get along so well? We have the same sense of humour, the same interests. We are also fairly down to earth, I’d say. We don’t feel superior or act all arrogant. We just like to have fun, also at our own expense. We’re able to laugh at ourselves.

For example, the biggest humiliation we can endure as a Melker (ed. – that’s how the members of De Melkerie are called) is to be dropped in a race by another Melker. Then afterwards we laugh and talk about it. When Tim almost won Le Samyn last year, we joked about it for a short while, saying he froze with the finish line in sight. But really now, we felt bad for him. If he had won, he would have bought us cake. Fortunately for him, with Florian Sénéchal another rider of Deceuninck – Quick-Step managed to get the win. Anyhow, we could have never dreamed that four Melkers would be at Deceuninck – Quick-Step at the same time.

Lead-outs are what I do best

Deceuninck – Quick-Step is my first team on World Tour level. It was the right time for me to take this step forward. Of course, I’ve already participated in quite a few World Tour races, including the Classics and Paris-Nice. Doing those races, I noticed that when it comes to preparing sprints, I can perform well at this level. I feel stronger every year. Last season I had some bad luck with illness, but I think I’ve really developed as a rider in my years at Cofidis. I managed to be up there in the finals of the big classics, although it’s not always easy to be at your best in the lead-out when you also have to protect your sprinter in the last kilometers of the race. In a perfect scenario, you have another rider for that.

Patrick Lefevere described me as a lead-out rider during the team presentation for the media in Calpe. I agree with him: it’s the most suitable role for me, it’s what I do best.

I used to be a sprinter myself in my early years as a pro. I regularly finished in the top ten, top five or even on the podium. But I never managed to get that win. Then I switched and became a lead-out rider. I have no problems working for another teammate, not at all. I have a relatively long sprint and I often have something left in the tank in the last part of the race, which is perfect for a lead-out. Ideally, there would be another rider in front of me and our sprinter in the final kilometres who drops me of at about 500 meters of the finish line so I can prepare the sprint and drop off our sprinter at about 200 meters. Such a long, preparatory sprint ahead of the actual sprint suits me. I’m not fast enough, I’m not an explosive sprinter. But I can go fast for a relatively long time.

In the upcoming races I’ll prepare the sprints for Hodeg

Sprinters must be able to blindly trust their lead-out men. My first acquaintance with the team’s sprinters went well. I clicked with everybody – Alvaro, Fabio and Sam. In the first races of the new season I’ll mainly prepare the sprints for Alvaro. We will soon be riding the Vuelta a San Juan and the Tour Colombia together and the intention is to perform well right away.

Obviously, Alvaro is very motivated to show his fast legs in his native country, Colombia. I’m up for it as well! I’ll have to see how my body reacts to the altitude. I’ve never raced at such an altitude. I hope I can do my job well for Alvaro. This applies to the entire season. I’ll be satisfied if I manage to take another step forward as a rider, if the feeling is right and if the team’s sprinters are happy with my job.


Photo credit: ©Sigfrid Eggers

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