Your name was not exactly set in stone in the Belgian selection beforehand. Have you had to tinker with your run-up in the last few weeks?
“Together with my trainer, we have made some adjustments. For example, I still rode the Canadian races, I started training a little more specifically with a view to the slopes in the World Cup course and I did put in a few more hours. A World Cup is longer than a Belgian race of 190 or 200 km of course. I have a little more fondness, that is necessary. Slight changes in my training program, but nothing major.”
When you unveiled the selection, Sven Vanthourenhout called you one of the most underrated riders in the peloton that many teams have an eye on. Nice words. Do you agree with that?
“Gosh, I’ve often driven for the company and then it’s hard to leave your mark myself. I’ve worked a lot for O’Connor and Paret-Peintre, but that such a person is easily in your wheel and you bring him smoothly to the front or ride from the third row in the wind three hours ahead of him, only the peloton sees of course. I am someone who can push and pull, but that doesn’t come up often. In addition, it also happens that my work is done when the TV broadcast starts. That is why it is a nice compliment from Sven and I can agree with that. I have a great sense of responsibility. If they ask me something, I don’t just throw my clack at it. That is appreciated.”
Are you going to be played out as Evenepoel’s chaperon again like last year at the European Championships in Trento?
“That is still to be discussed, but I will take that into account. I have no problem throwing myself 120 percent for someone else. At that European Championship I already proved that by being able to stay with Remco for a very long time and I think that I now largely owe my selection to that. On the other hand, it is also possible that Sven asks me to check the flight in the first three hours of the race. We will need every puzzle piece to collectively create something beautiful. Whatever puzzle piece I have to be, I will do my best.”
You seem very pleased with your selection. Do you see this as a new milestone?
“This year I rode my first Tour and now the World Cup. That can be a springboard higher up. Hopefully I can take another step next year. I haven’t really come close to a big win yet, but that’s not always easy in my role. In any case, it would be a great honor for me to be part of the team that delivers a world champion. With two strong leaders we are in a privileged position to make that happen. I was still talking about it with Benoit (Cosnefroy ed.). He was there last year when Alaphilippe finished it for the French. He told me that was a very special feeling. An extra motivation.”
A course with 4,000 altimeters. When is your role usually played out?
“Hard to say. If I have to drive for three hours in the lead, I won’t make it to the final. I like the effort itself. A 1.1 km climb is something I definitely have to be able to handle, I don’t carry a lot of weight because I am rather small, but blocked, a classic rider so to speak. I’m not saying I’ll be there on the last slope of the day, but the penultimate one, that should be possible.”
You clearly indicate that you want to completely ignore yourself for the team. Does this mean that you definitely want to go for a role as a servant and are willing to put your own ambitions aside?
“No, I like to support men like Greg, Benoit or Oli in A-races within the team. They are all super cool guys who are very down to earth and respectful. The team rather expects results from me in smaller races. That works well, so I can ride in the big races without pressure and slowly grow until I can play a part in it myself. If you ask me where I would like to be in three years, I hope by then I will have thrown my arms in the air a few times and gradually become part of the A-team at AG2R. Once I was allowed to drive for a result in a race such as the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, for example.”
Starting a course with two leaders, does it make it more or less tactically easy?
“We are almost obliged to the status of Remco and Wout to start with two leaders. It is simply a matter of making clear agreements. You can’t get around that. Remco is now much calmer, everyone in the Vuelta has been able to see that. You just have to imagine that, to be thrown into such a circus as a 20-year-old. I don’t think many were made for that. The baby mistakes are now out, he handles it all in a grown-up way. I think that, together with him and Wout, we will start with a plan that gives us a good chance of becoming world champion.”
From which quarter do you expect the most opposition?
“I’m taking Laporte into account, Pogacar has also worked towards this and he is of course a very good driver in every terrain. Matthews drives home. Add Remco and Wout to that and I think I have named two of the three men who will be on the podium on Sunday or I will at least be close.”