Riders to Watch in 2019 – Alfdan De Decker

By David Hunter

One of the joys of this series is finding a rider on the brink of something special. Alfdan De Decker is a sprinter, a fast man and a winner. He’s just 22 years of age, but already has secured a contract with Wanty Groupe – Gobert, thanks to an impressive 2018. Belgium doesn’t often produce fast sprinters, but De Decker has the qualities required to go a long way in the sport of cycling.

“I’m 22 years old and live in Belgium together with my family. I have two brothers, one of them is also a cyclist, one sister and a lovely girlfriend.

I started racing at the age of 10. It was always a dream to becoming pro but I never thought it could actually happen.

Before racing I did athletics and went to the youth movement. Now I like to go to a good restaurant, do funny stuff with friends and support Royal Antwerp football club.”

Alfdan started 2018 with the Lotto under 23 squad, one of the best development squads around.

“It was a great experience. I learned a lot and had the possibilities to race UCI races all over the world. They made me the rider who I am today.”

This year was always going to be about development, getting stronger and faster.

“I was very happy with my season. I had good shape from the beginning to the end, just a little knee injury at an important time was a little disappointment. I expected more from races like Gent Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders but it was impossible with my knee and 3 weeks without training.

After that I was be able to win races, not only on the flat, and that’s what I need with the pros because all the races have difficulties and climbing.

My sprint progress was also there which made me happy because that’s the way I want to go. I think that if you want to succeed with the pros you need a speciality and sprinting is definitely mine, so I will keep improving myself at this stage. But I also want to improve in the classics. Paris Roubaix is definitely the most beautiful race and I like the cobblestones.”

De Decker was close to tasting success in the early part of the season, finishing in the top 10 on four occasions, all in the first six weeks of his season. You can bet that teams were starting to get interested and when he finished 2nd in GP Criquielion, in May, that sealed the deal for one team.

Last winter I trained a lot with one goal: become pro. I knew that it was my last chance to become pro and I wanted to give everything for that! Then at the end of May I heard that I could be stagiaire for Wanty.  They saw me driving a few races where we started with the pros. My manager told me about the chance and I took it.”

In July, De Decker was racing in the Tour de Solidarnosc over in Poland. This 2.2 race is a perfect place for young riders to get noticed, which is what exactly happened with Alfdan, after taking two sprint victories.

“One of my highs of the season, was definitely my 2 UCI victory stages in Tour de Solidarnosc in Poland.”

Winning is always nice, but the confidence gained was crucial. Alfdan was about to begin his stagiaire spell with Wanty and arriving with a couple of wins under in his belt was always going to help. For those that don’t know, a stagiaire ride is a bit like work experience. It allows the team to take a close look at a rider and see how they settle in the team, but there is no guarantee of a contract at the end of the season. It’s up to the rider to prove their worth and grab the opportunity with both hands.

The big moment came in Schaal Sels, where De Decker was on lead out duties. His job was to guide Timothy Dupont in the closing kilometres, something he did very well. Not only did Dupont take the win, but De Decker hung on to take second place, the perfect lead out!

“It was a home race for me, the finish line was in front of my former school, so I was really motivated but I never expected that result. I needed that result to realize that I have a place with the pros. A few days later I won my first pro race with the help of the team because they saw that I have a strong finish, so Schaal Sels was really an important race for me and my future.”

This performance convinced the team to allow De Decker to be their designated sprinter in the next race, Stadsprijs Geraardsbergen.

“Winning Stadsprijs Geraardsbergen was a normal win so I didn’t celebrate a lot but afterwards I got a lot of messages and I realised that it was a special moment.”

A great team job and then a win for himself, it really was a dream period for the young rider. You can certainly say that he took his opportunity, a contract was not far away.

“After my second place at Schaals sels and my victory in Stadsprijs Geraardsbergen we started talking and had an arrangement very quickly.”

2019 is going to be a big learning experience for the fast man. He is joining a well established team, one that already has a number of sprinters on their books. De Decker knows that he’ll have to prove himself, before getting his own opportunities.

“I really hope that I can learn from our other sprinters in the team and to watch, in races, the other famous sprinters and to steal with my eyes. In the sprint I am really focused and try to stay calm. I try to think about when I am going to sprint, not too early and not too late, of course. For me it doesn’t really matter to start the sprint from the front or behind, but it is easier to start in the front. If you see the whole team in front of you, that gives a bit of calmness.”

After an excellent period with Wanty, De Decker ended the season with a bump, crashing out of the Olympia’s Tour.

“In the beginning I was really disappointed. I had still a couple of goals, but after a few days I realised that an earlier stop could help me prepare well for the new season.”

Like many cyclists, De Decker tends to train on his own, he is also a keen student of the sport.

“Most of the time I am riding alone. I live in Antwerp, which is very flat. At the weekends I am training in a group on more hilly parcours. I do a lot of power training specific for sprinting. On the road I also do a lot of sprint training and explosive sprints.

Most cycling watchers did not really like the sprints stages but for me it is study material. I like to see Peter Sagan and how he always does a sprint on his own, without any teammates, he is still in the front. His positioning is beautiful to watch.”

For those that have seen him in action, the first thing you notice is that Alfdan rides with glasses on. This is very unusual, I can’t recall seeing many pros doing something similar.

“I am riding like this my whole life and never saw it as something negative. Everyone knows me as the rider with glasses.”

Starting out in your first pro season isn’t easy. There will be a period of adjustment as Alfdan settles into the team and rides against athletes who are more developed than him. I expect to see Wanty taking good care of him and not expecting too much, too soon. After the settling in period is over, I think we’ll see him trusted with opportunities in some sprinter friendly races. Given his speed, a win in his debut season is a realistic goal and one that Alfdan can achieve.

David Hunter

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