Lotto-Soudal’s U23 team is famed for sending a lot of riders to their pro team, as well as many riders to other WorldTour and Pro Continental teams. This season’s squad has been very climbing orientated, with Bjorg Lambrecht, Aaron Verwilst and Harm Vanhoucke. However, the first two members of that trio have moved on for 2018 and Vanhoucke will do so too in July. This means the 2018 focus of the squad is on more “traditionally” Belgian riders: one in particular is Gerben Thijssen, a first year U23 rider who has already made an impact on the racing scene across Belgium. He was fantastic this year and will be one of the main leaders of the team next season
Thijssen hasn’t been able to ride the big race in the early part of the season due to other racing commitments, as well as needing time to adapt to the U23 level of racing. Gerben took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions exclusively for U23 Cycling Zone, so that readers can get to know him a little better.
“My first year as an U23 was quite a good one, I did gain a lot of experience and also some good results. I also progressed a lot in the sprint and that’s one thing that is very important for me as cyclist. It’s something I want to keep working on for the future though.”
The 19-year-old also weighed in on what he thought the major differences were between the junior level and the U23 level.
“The biggest difference is the length of the race, like it’s always one hour extra and that’s a lot. Also, the bigger gear is something I like and something that’s different with the juniors.”
Thijssen, who is committed to riding with Lotto-Soudal’s U23 team for 2018, had no issue stating his confidence in his team, stating proudly that he believes the development team is the best squad in Belgium. They too, have great confidence in him, after he turned his 31 UCI race days in 2017 into 11 top ten finishes, meaning he was close to the win on more than 33% of the days he raced this season, an amazing return rate for a 19-year-old who is in their first season at the U23 level.
“I didn’t need to think a lot about joining the team, because in my opinion it’s the best team in Belgium. When my final season as a junior ended, I was already looking forward to start training again because the Lotto-Soudal U23 team is a big opportunity for me.”
While another 19-year-old Belgian, Jasper Philipsen, has had a lot of media attention this season, Gerben has also strung together a very solid season, with three wins and a few very high placings. Gerben talked us through his favourite win in 2017:
“My favourite victory is the one in the Olympia’s Tour. This is because it was a sprint mano-a-mano with Fabio Jakobsen (Next year with QuickStep) and we were both winners in stages in the race (Gerben also beat Bram Welten and Philipsen on the stage he won- ed.). The other one (GP Stad Sint-Niklaas) was also quite special because I did beat Alvaro Jose Hodeg (Also net season a pro with QuickStep) and my team was so strong that day.”
In addition, Thijssen managed to take podiums in Paris-Tours U23 and Gooikse Pijl, as well as 7th in U23 Eschborn-Frankfurt. However, Thijssen missed out on riding the other U23 Classics like Liege, Flanders and Roubaix. He explained that there was a mixture of reasons as to why he didn’t participate in Roubaix and Flanders, a duo of races that suit Gerben on paper.
“I didn’t race Roubaix and Flanders because I also ride a lot at the track and sometimes I need to make decisions. Hopefully I can ride both Roubaix and Flanders next season. I also wasn’t selected for Flanders because I didn’t have enough results at the time leading into the race and the other riders in the team were better at that moment than I was.”
Gerben says that now his 2017 season has come to an end, he has his sights set firmly on 2018, where his biggest goal is to keep progressing along the path he started this season. He also wants to work on his biggest strength, his sprinting, and his biggest weakness, his climbing.
“My goals are to keep progressing like I am now, and to keep working on my sprint. Hopefully I can win again some big races next season and also improve on my climbing because you need it also as sprinter.”
While Thijjsen will only be 20 at the conclusion of the coming season, it is not ridiculous to imagine he could go pro at the end of the year, like some 20 year olds have done in 2017. So the big question was posed to Gerben: if you could win any pro race one day, what would it be and why?
“My biggest dream if I ever have the fortune to make it as a professional bike rider is to win stage 21 of the Tour de France, the sprint on the Champs-Elysees. It is the biggest race in the world for any sprinter each season and it comes at the end of the hardest Grand Tour.”
Gerben Thijssen is a really talented rider and is set to be one of the most dominant sprinters in U23 cycling next season. He is also one to watch in the Classics, as he has shown an ability to climb well and get over the short and punchy climbs that make the Classics so special. Remember the name, not just for seasons to come, but for 2018 too: Gerben Thijssen.