What's Cool In Road Cycling

Preview Belgian Championships with Jürgen Roelandts and Anisha Vekemans

It’s the time of the National Championships. This year the battle for the Belgian road title will take place at the Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, in the southern part of Belgium, known from stages of the Belgium Tour. Lotto Soudal will start with a strong team of seventeen riders.

The organisation has created a course of 15.4 kilometres that the men need to cover fifteen times, which means a total distance of 231 kilometres. The Petit Poggio, a hill at five kilometres from the finish, could become decisive. It has an average gradient of 6.4% and peaks up to 11%. The rest of the course isn’t flat at all either, there will be a total of 4140 altitude metres.

Herman Frison, sports director Lotto Soudal: “At the Belgium Tour large groups have already sprinted for the victory at the Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, but there are several short laps this time with lots of uphill parts. I can’t predict what will happen. It could be that the pack will really fall apart, like many people think, but it could be as well that a large group gets to the finish. Like I always say, the riders make the race and if there is one race that is hard to predict, it is the Belgian Championships road race. Last year the right break already took off in the first lap, on a course that was less hard, it all depends on who is represented.”

“We start with many riders and have different options. We can make different decisions according to the situation. Our goal is to lead a Lotto Soudal rider to the title, it doesn’t matter which one. There is only one place that counts. Of course other teams will look at us because we have such a large team, but we only focus on ourselves. Gilbert, Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke will be important opponents, just like the Etixx – QuickStep team. But as turned out last year, it can also be a rider we don’t expect.”

The ‘Lotto’ team conquered the Belgian title for the last time in 2014, when Debusschere won in Wielsbeke. His brother-in-law and teammate Jürgen Roelandts almost succeeded him last year, but got beaten by Preben Van Hecke. Roelandts did win the title in 2008, as neo-pro.

Jürgen Roelandts: “I will be good on Sunday, I don’t doubt that, but at the Belgian Championships you also need to have some luck. Hopefully it ends better for me than last year. That I missed out on the title last year is the biggest disappointment in my career. It doesn’t mean I start this time with a different mind-set than other years though, I never dare to expect anything at the Championships because it is so unpredictable. Of course I would love to conquer a second Belgian title. It’s fantastic to ride in that jersey. In 2009 I got injured and couldn’t race the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and I would love to race there once with the national jersey. And it would be wonderful to ride the Tour as Belgian champion.”

“I always use my intuition when I race, I don’t start with a major plan. Last year I joined a breakaway in the first lap, and such a move was already successful a few times at the Championships. Also Sunday that could be the scenario. It’s a course that suits different types of riders: from climbers to Classics riders. You can compare the course a bit to the Canadian races in Montréal and Québec, but of course it’s so different because it’s a race with only Belgian riders. It’s a fact that the strongest riders will battle for the victory at the end. I am pleased the Championship is organised on this course.”

The Lotto Soudal team: Sander Armée, Tiesj Benoot, Kris Boeckmans, Sean De Bie, Jasper De Buyst, Bart De Clercq, Thomas De Gendt, Jens Debusschere, Gert Dockx, Frederik Frison, Maxime Monfort, Jürgen Roelandts, Tosh Van der Sande, Jelle Vanendert, Louis Vervaeke, Jelle Wallays and Tim Wellens.

Sunday at half past eight the women will already start their road race at the Belgian National Championships near the Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure. They have to cover seven laps of 15.4 kilometres, so at the end they will have raced 107.8 kilometres. These riders will take the start for the Lotto Soudal Ladies team: Isabelle Beckers, Sofie De Vuyst, Lieselot Decroix, Lotte Kopecky and Anisha Vekemans.

Dany Schoonbaert, sports director: “We should have the strongest team, but that doesn’t mean the victory is certain. In international races riders from other countries often raise the pace, now we have to make the race hard. Sofie De Vuyst, Lotte Kopecky and Anisha Vekemans all have a chance to win. Our entire team will do all they can to make sure we can successfully finish it off at the end. Everyone is in good condition and I don’t doubt they will all perform well. Jolien D’hoore is always a dangerous opponent, she’s also fast. Also the riders preparing for the cyclo-cross season could be strong. But the course is perfect for a hard race and that’s an advantage for us.”

Anisha Vekemans: “This race is a big goal for me, the course really suits me. Each lap we have to climb three hills. The Petit Poggio is the last hill on the course, but I don’t think it’s the hardest one. It gradually goes uphill, while the other two climbs are much steeper. The first one is actually a large road, the second one is a hill in the wood. Also the finish area is uphill, only the last one hundred metres are flat. When you start your final sprint too early, you risk of losing your speed. I find it a beautiful course. No doubt, it will be a tough race, I expect there will already be a serious reduction of the pack in the third lap.”

“We have a strong team with the Lotto Soudal Ladies. Also for Sofie De Vuyst and Lotte Kopecky this is a good course. For us it’s an advantage if it’s a hard race. Three years ago I finished sixth at the Championships in La Roche. It was a hard race then as well, with Liesbet De Vocht who won. I’m a few years older now, have grown and I hope to set a better result at this Championships. I have had the perfect preparation. It’s been a few weeks now that I get up at six in the morning and go to bed at nine in the evening, because of the early start on Sunday. I know I did all I could to be ready.”

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