We talked with the Belgian Champion about his most recent success and the expectations he has ahead of his Tour de France debut.
Yves, massive congrats on your new title as National Champion of Belgium. We would all like to know how the new jersey smells, feels and looks but first we need to get something straight. Is it true that you did judo and only began cycling when you were 17 years old?
Yes, that is true, I did judo and was quite good at it, actually. A very popular sport in my city, I started doing judo like many other kids when I was six years old. My mom knew someone who was also doing judo and thought it'd be good for me too.
And she was right because I became Belgian champion, my first national title, in fact. But after 11 years of combating on the floor, when I was 17 years old, I started with cycling. My first training was in January and I loved it so much that I left behind my black belt and never came back again. It was time to try something new, I thought.
But why cycling? It's very different from doing judo, isn't it?
When I was getting older, I started following my cousin who was a cyclist and became professional at Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise. I thought it was a cool sport and that I would like to try it as well, and that is how I started training on my bike from one day to the next. Judo is indeed very different from cycling but the training and sport had been good for my basic physical development.
Every year I got better and better, not too fast but steadily in my own tempo, listening to the precious advice from people in the sport, my trainers and sports directors. Wim Feys was my first sports director, whom I met when I joined the Quick-Step Floors training team in 2012.
Everybody around that team were really good guys who know a lot about cycling and still today do a lot for young riders. Within one year I turned pro with Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise, the team my cousin had also raced for and after two years I could take the next step up by signing a pro contract with Quick-Step.
So you came back to the team that gave you the chance when you were still very young but now on World Tour level. Was that the plan all along?
I don't know if it was the plan all along. I would rather call it a dream that came true. I had another possibility as well but in the end, Lefevere assured me that I should come to his team, which turned out to be the right decision, looking back at our shared journey that started in 2015.
What does this team represent and mean for you?
For me, Quick-Step Floors is an amazing squad
I know, I am probably not the only one who thinks so but it's really nice that we are able to do a good race on almost every parcours. For a classics rider, who likes the cobblestones and tough conditions of the spring, just like myself, it is a dream and an honour to ride for Quick-Step Floors because there is so much proven success, history and experience that you couldn't find anywhere else.
But the most important thing for me is how we are always fighting together as a team. If it is a small or big race, it doesn't matter, we want to win, together! That is really the true spirit and something I always repeat when people ask me about the mentality and life within the pack - and I think that is why I feel so much at home here.
Last year, you had what many would probably see as a breakthrough season, winning Dwars door Vlaanderen, the National ITT title and a Grand Tour stage at the Vuelta a España. Did you experience it as a breakthrough as well?
I don't know if I would call a breakthrough winning those races. I think I came through as a loyal worker who had the level to win as well as improving step by step. I had earned the respect from the leaders because of all the hard work I did for them and the team. It paid off, as they gave me the chance to become one of the leaders of the team.
So it is not just because I won some races that I would call it a breakthrough but rather because of all the hard work I did for the team that paid off.
Talking about winning... You have been part of the most successful team since 2015, especially this season has been amazing until now. Can you describe how has been the ride?
Yeah, it has really been an awesome period! At the moment, I don't really realize what we have achieved in this season. Times flies by so fast and we are doing really well in almost every race so you don't actually think too much about what happened, you just continue on to the next goals, staying focused at all times.
If it wasn't going so well, I think you would think more about the situation. We are all trying to enjoy it but maybe we will appreciate it more when we'll look back one day or if things weren't going so well. The thing is, we want to get the most out of it, making this season legendary, which is why we continue!
Yves, less than two weeks ago, you made yourself legendary by winning the national road race of Belgium. Did you realize it yet?
To be honest, it has not sunk in at all. I am overexcited about the jersey and feel so proud and happy knowing I will represent my country with it over the next year, around the world.
But for the moment it is difficult to understand, it will probably sink in when I am on the start line wearing my new jersey. What I have enjoyed the most since that day is seeing and meeting all those people who are so happy on my behalf, congratulating me and wishing me good luck – an overwhelming experience.
Did you have any time to enjoy this moment?
After the race, I enjoyed it with the team, sponsors, friends and family – and then I had a celebration ceremony in my home town with flowers and everything. It is a really special experience that I will forever remember. But there is not much time to rest on the laurels as my next big appointment is coming up in July.
You said it yourself. How excited are you to be racing in July in what will be your first-ever Tour de France and wearing the tricolour?
It is really difficult to describe how excited I am for the Tour to get started
It is the greatest Grand Tour of the three with the presence of all the best riders in the world. Wearing the Belgian national jersey through France will be very special and I can't wait to hear all the Belgian people who always line up along the French roads cheering for the peloton when it passes by.
Personally, I look to the whole thing and hope we can leave our mark on this Tour as one of the most successful teams. We will hunt stages with Fernando and try to win as many stages as possible by giving the maximum of ourselves every day. The team time trial will of course be really special as it is a discipline I love and have been World Champion in, in 2016 with Quick-Step Floors, and the same goes for the cobbles on stage 9 leading to Roubaix.
Apart from this, it will be a lot of fun with the team, staff and riders, so three weeks in the best #TheWolfpack company. Everybody is super motivated and ready to make this Tour something we will never forget!
Photo credit: ©Sigfrid Eggers
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