By David Hunter
If this is the first time you’ve heard the name of Louis Vervaeke, then where have you been? The super talented, 21 year old Belgian, already took 4 wins in 2014. Riding for the Lotto under 23 squad, they’ve been cultivating his talent for a while. He’s now ready to move to the professional ranks and start to measure himself against the best. A brilliant climber, he is destined for greatness and is another of the excellent, young group of Belgian riders. Here is my interview with Louis.
What a season 2014 turned out to be! Winner of Ronde de l’Isard, Pays de Savoie and a stage in Tour de l’Avenir. Did you dream of a year like this?
I did dream of a year like this. I did know I would be pro in 2015, so in the winter I could work hard without pressure. My main goal was to win one stage race of UCI level but that I would win 4 was really a dream!
Your first win was Ronde de l’Isard, thanks to a 2nd and 3rd place in the opening 2 stages. What was the race like?
I knew the race, I was there 2 years ago and knew it really was something for me. From the 5 stages there were 3 mountain days, so it really was my type of race. In the first stage I lost some seconds to the Russian rider, Foliforov, but I knew I could beat him. And so I did when I took the yellow jersey in a snowy stage and could quite easily keep it till the end.
How did it feel, when you crossed the line on the final stage?
I was really happy, I had the feeling that my season was accomplished and I had realised my goal of the season in my first race!
In Pays de Savoie you were flying! 4th, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd and 1st in the 5 stages. How does it feel to race, when in such good form?
I knew my form was good after l’Isard, but I had a feeling I could do better, and thanks to my trainer, Dirk Onghena, I was better. For me it was the ultimate feeling, to be sure I was ready to be a professional.
Did you feel unbeatable?
In the first stage I was really unbeatable, and so I attacked too early and broke on the final climb. I was really angry with myself. So I knew on the other days to also use my head. In stage 3, I did know I wouldn’t win because the finish wasn’t suited to me, but I was still 3rd.
Was it extra special to take the final stage, as well as the GC?
Yes, because for me a stage win is sometimes more special than the GC, as there is more adrenalin. Especially the last stage, where I also took the GC after a hard battle with the Russian rider(Foliforov).
In fact, you won the GC, young rider and points jersey. You must have been disappointed to only finish 2nd in the KOM classification! Did you not fancy winning everything?
It was actually never a goal to win everything but it would have been insane if I did!
After this, Lotto put you into the Tour of Austria. Was this always the plan or due to your great form?
The plan was to wait until 2015 to become pro, but due to a problem for Oliver Kaisen, there was an empty spot. They did ask me in February(Kaisen only competed in the Tour Down Under) if I was interested, but I first wanted to achieve my goal of winning a UCI race. So after l’Isard, I spoke again with the pro team and told them I was ready.
What happened in Austria? You were a DNF on stage 3.
Already in the first stage I felt a little bit sick. After that day it was getting worse so the team and I decided I should go home to prepare for the second part of the season.
At just 20, you then got to race San Sebastian and finished a very respectable 46th. What did you think about the race and in particular the final climb?
I really love this race. I think the final is really nice. You have 2 times the Jaizkibel and some other climbs, so there is already a big selection made in the peloton. Then on the final climb, the strongest will always be able to drop the others.
You lined up with some of the biggest names in cycling and probably some of your heroes. How does it feel to race against these riders?
It was really special! In the beginning I had some problems with concentration and staying at the front of the peloton, because if I saw Valverde I was scared I would ride in his way!
How nervous were you before the start? Do these nerves disappear when you start the race?
I wasn’t super nervous because Tim Wellens, Jasper Stuyven and Sean De Bie were also at the start. It helped a lot to be able to talk to them about normal things. They really helped to calm me down.
It must have been wonderful to win a stage in the Tour de l’Avenir. Talk me through your win?
Actually it was a really sad day. At the start, I heard that Igor Decreane had past away. I had to really struggle to concentrate and at first I wanted to quit. But I then started to think that he could be the power I needed to win the stage, in tribute to him and the other people I loved, who had passed away. So there was an early break, and in there was a Belgian. I had the heart to close the gap solo with 90km to go, on the first climb. Loic Vliegen, Belgian teammate, did really help a lot in the valley and and the start of the Croix de Ferr, with a Danish rider. With more than 60km to go, I went solo and held it to the finish. It was the most beautiful and sad day, of my career. I dedicated my victory to Igor, but also my grandad and Kristoff Goddaert, who was a really good friend.
What about your celebration?
I crossed the line and pointed with my fingers to Igor, grandad and Kristoff.
Next up was Canada and the races in Quebec and Montreal. How did you find racing in Canada?
It was a really nice experience. There is a whole different atmosphere in Canada, than in Europe. In Quebec, I served the team in the final and in Montreal I had to go in the early break and did well to take the KOM jersey.
Which race was more difficult?
They are both different. Quebec is more explosive and a bit less climbing. Montreal has longer climbs, but less explosive.
Are they suited to your skills?
I think so. It’s hard to say as a neo, but I think I’m better in the longer climbs and stage races.
You were racing with Vanendert, Gallopin and Wellens. Do you ask for advice or play it cool?
Wellens I know already and he always gives me good advice. If I’m not sure of something, I’ll always ask one of the more experienced riders. Jelle and Tony will always say if they see something I didn’t do well. It’s nice to race with these big, talented and helpful riders.
And if the season wasn’t good enough, you then got to ride Il Lombardia. How hard was the race?
In Lombardia, I didn’t have a good day. At the start, I already felt that it wasn’t going to be my day. However, it was the most beautiful race I have ever competed in, it really is a big classic with a big history.
What did you think of Madonna del Ghisallo?
Hard, steep but beautiful.
How difficult is it to race over 200km?
In San Sebastian, I was surprised to still be in the first group after 200km, but Lombardia was just too much.
You then finished the season off, by competing in the Tour of Beijing. What did you make of the country, the smog and the people?
It was a really nice experience. I was feeling good all week, so it was a lot of fun. The smog was a problem during the first 2 days, but it wasn’t a problem after that.
You are being mentioned as the next Belgian GC star. How do you cope with the pressure that these comments bring?
For the moment I don’t feel any real pressure, and I want it to stay that way! I really want to grow slowly, at my own pace. I really hope I can be the next Belgian star, just like Tim Wellens is now.
In TTs you have produced some good results, what do you think about your TT ability?
I think it’s important to keep working on it. I really like to do an ITT. The focus, the precision, the pain! I think I’m pretty good at it, if I look at other climbers of my age. In the under 23 races, it was a weapon for me.
Is it something you work on?
I work on it but not specific enough. Now with Lotto, we can work on it more. They do testing on the track, so I hope I can develop more.
How do you best train? Alone? Fixed program? Where do you go?
I really love to train with 2-4 riders, but my specific training I love to do alone. I go a lot to the mountains to train.
You are part of a very exciting group of young Belgian riders. At Lotto there are you, Benoot, De Buyst and Di Bie. Does it make it easier when you have other young riders in the team?
I think it’s good to have riders of the same generation, because you have a lot of stories and memories to share. It also helps to motivate each other.
The Belgian football team is also benefitting from a talented group of young players. What has happened in recent years to push young people into sport?
Nothing in particular. Maybe it’s the same as with wine and now the good Belgian years are grown up!
What is your favourite type of climb, in terms of distance and gradient?
I prefer the combination of long distance and high gradient. I like the Italian climbs.
What is your favourite race?
It’s hard to say because I haven’t competed in all the races yet. Probably the Tour and the Giro.
You raced the Mont Blanc race in 2012 and 2013, against riders like Aru, Formolo, Villella, Yates, Chernetckii and Bongiorno. Does it fill you with confidence to see them perform so well in World Tour races?
Yes, it really gives me a lot of confidence that I can be as good as them, one day. Especially Formolo, Yates and Villella. We had a lot of battles in the mountains, in 2013.
Who was the best youth rider you competed against?
This year it’s Lopez or Power.
What differences do you feel fitness wise compared to this time last year?
I feel a year stronger, but I think the thing that’s most improved is my head. I’m more relaxed and more confident.
Are there any races you have your eye on?
Like everyone I would love to win a Grand Tour.
Growing up, which cyclists inspired you?
There were a lot who inspired me, but after hearing all the stories, I know there was no one.
You combine cycling with studying. How difficult is it to split your time?
It was hard but I’ll now stop school.
What are you most looking forward to about going pro?
That everything has still to begin and I, hopefully, have a long future. I’m also excited to see what my capabilities are at pro level.
If you could only win 1 race in 2015, which would it be and why?
If I could win 1, it would be insane! I wouldn’t care which one, but it’s a dream to win a mountaintop finish.
Who are your best friends in the peloton?
I have a lot of good friends in the pro peloton: Jasper Stuyven, Tim Wellens, Sean Die Bie, Jef Van Meirhaeghe, Tiesj Benoot, Victor Campenaerts,…
You tweet a lot of Banksy work, are you a fan?
Yes, I really love his art. I’m a big fan of street art in general.
What are your goals for 2015?
Learn, get stronger and be able to show in some races that suit me.
When you sit down in 1 years time, what will success be for you?
I’ll be happy if I can compete in the finals of some classics. It would also be good to ride a nice GC in a 2.HC or 2.1 race.
This rider is definitely one to watch, in 2015 and beyond. It won’t be long before we see him competing at the very highest level.
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