As has been tradition for U23 Cycling Zone editor Joseph Doherty during his time with CyclingQuotes.com, this year we are back with another New Year’s Eve interview, the first with U23 Cycling Zone.
This year, we are joined by the winner of U23 Paris-Roubaix, Nils Eekhoff of Team Sunweb’s development squad. The Dutchman is a really strong rider and achieved some big results this season, despite being only 19 years of age. U23 Cycling Zone caught up with Nils just before Christmas to bring you this exclusive interview.
“2017 was a year with both ups and downs for me. I did some nice things that I’m really proud of, but I had a lot of crashes. This is something I hope to avoid next year and have a more stable season where I can show myself. Also, I caused some bad luck myself but there was injuries that held me back this season.”
As for the present, Nils explained a little about how he is preparing for his 2018 season, his second with Team Sunweb.
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a lot of strength and endurance training. I also will do a week of skiing in Austria before Christmas, it’s a sport I have done since the age of four and I really enjoy it. In January, I go to Majorca with a few of my teammates to train and then we have the official preseason team camp with Team Sunweb in Calpe in February.”
Nils, looking at his Instagram page, has also been doing some cyclocross. We asked him about the benefits of riding CX and what he has learned from his Team Sunweb Devo teammate Joris Nieuwenhuis, one of the best U23s in the cross world just now.
“For me, CX is purely for enjoyment and fun. It doesn’t matter what I do, I always go full gas and riding in the mud is fun. The discipline itself is good for strength training and really improves bike handling. Joris is a really good rider and it is great to see how he combines CX and road and can still be successful at both.”
Given Nils doesn’t turn 20 until January, it is perhaps unsurprising that he isn’t really sure what type of rider he will develop into yet in the future.
“For me, it is really hard to say what I will be. I don’t know if I can be good in the Classics, but I do enjoy racing them. In the past, I have done some good time trials and climbs. It really depends on how I develop. Cycling is a more specialist sport than ever before, so only time will tell what I can become.”
Nils had some big results, including 6th in GP Criquelion, 11th in the pro race Veenendaal Veenendaal Classic, 8th in Trofej Porec and 17th on GC in Tryptique des Monts et Chateaux. But given he mentioned the Classics, it was hard to not talk about his biggest win of the year at U23 Paris-Roubaix. Despite the fact he has probably been asked this question on numerous occasions prior to this interview, Nils brilliantly broke down the race once more for U23 Cycling Zone.
“Paris-Roubaix is a really nice race. I started with a good feeling and really wanted to go for it. I was focused on the race in the weeks leading up to the race. I was told in the meeting beforehand that the team would support me so that I could do my own thing. Early on, a break went away and I wasn’t sure if they would be caught, although they did come back around the halfway mark in the race. At this point, I had a mental crisis but my teammates gave me a motivational talk that really energised me. After that a new break formed and I made it across to that group with the help of a teammate. I was lucky as I was the last man to make the group. On Carrefour de l’Arbre, the group split again with two guys ahead. I was ten metres behind with two from Lotto-Soudal and four from Chambery CCF (AG2R’s feeder team). We chased hard and it came back together in the velodrome as a group of 18. Chambery had the numbers and did a leadout, but I followed on their wheel and came round with 150m to go, just at the last bend, and held everyone off to win. It was a really nice win and for sure the best in my career.”
Turning towards 2018, Nils doesn’t have a specific race he wishes to target, as he desires more to try and be consistent and always show off the Team Sunweb jersey in a positive way.
“For 2018, I want to show myself in the Classics and all the races I do. To win more, I want to join breakaways and try to win from them. Overall, the biggest aims are to raise my level and show myself in races.”
Team Sunweb’s pro squad has a really great record for turning riders pro and developing them, from older sprinters like Marcel Kittel, Luka Mezgec and John Degenkolb, to more recent riders in different disciplines like Tom Dumoulin, Warren Barguil, Sam Oomen and Lennard Kämna. This track record seems to seeping down to the Devo team, which has a lot of promising talents on it for 2018. We asked Nils about how he thinks Sunweb has helped him develop in the twelve months he has raced with them so far.
“The team has a really good track record of developing guys, originally sprinters but more recently Grand Tour riders. The team’s knowledge is good and it allows me more time to develop, ensuring I don’t burn out as a result of going too hard too early in my career.”
Given he won the U23 Paris-Roubaix, there is no surprise at all that Nils selected the pro edition of the race when asked which pro race he could win if he had the choice. Interestingly, since 2009, no winner of the U23 race has come close to winning the pro race, with two-time U23 winner Taylor Phinney’s 15th the best attempt. However, former runner-up Jasper Stuyven was fourth in the pro race this year.
“This is not a hard question to answer,” Nils laughs. “It is the elite version of Paris-Roubaix. It’s one of the races I have loved since I started watching cycling on TV. It is just special and different from all the other races. I almost do not know how to describe it. It is just my favourite race, it is magical. The atmosphere from the fans on the road is amazing.”
Nils certainly has the power and skills to win a race like Paris-Roubaix one day, but he has made it clear that, for now, his eyes are firmly on the U23 scene, where he still can race for another three seasons if he so desires before going pro.
U23 Cycling Zone wish to thank Nils for taking part in the interview and we wish him all the best for 2018. We also want to thank Team Sunweb press officer Rico Seidel for setting this interview up. You can follow Nils on Twitter at @nilseekhoff.