For Lotto-Soudal U23, the success this season of riders like Ruben Apers, Brent Van Moer and Julian Mertens has papered over the cracks of team who has been plagued with injury and illness for their top GC riders. After Harm Vanhoucke announced he had health issues that will probably stop him racing for the devo team this season (he goes pro with the WorldTour team July 1), Kobe Goossens announced he was out of the Baby Giro after crashing in the Peace Race. another prodigious climbing talent in Thomas Vereecken, who has been hampered with injuries, managing just 7 UCI race days this year.
After returning with great success at the Ronde de l’Isard, Thomas has not raced since. U23 Cycling Zone caught up with Vereecken, who promises to be one of the best climbers in the U23 category, if he can shake his injury woes.
“After a good first race I thought I’d have a good season, but a week after that race I had knee problems. I had to rest a lot but it didn’t improve. After a couple of weeks, they said I had to continue my season like that and have an operation halfway through September, otherwise my season would be already over. I came back but the results weren’t what I expected. In the second part of the season I was better and had some nice results so I was happy about that,” Thomas says, when asked about his 2017 season.
Thomas has in fact managed just one UCI race day before May 1 in the last two seasons put together. This is a real shame, as he has been behind other riders when it comes to competing for GC, as he pays for his lack of racing. It shows just how talented he is that he still scored 8th overall in the Tour of South Bohemia and 10th in the Tour of Alsace last year, as well as 6th in this season’s Ronde de l’Isard, despite his lack of racing.
Thomas, 21 next month, has no doubt about which races suit his skillset best, with a resounding answer of stage races: “I just like stage races with everything in it the best, I think I’m better at climbing.”
With Bjorg Lambrect going pro in January and Vanhoucke joining him in a few weeks, does Thomas feel pressure from the team to really step up and fill the GC role vacated by those guys?
“I don’t feel more pressure from the team but I just want to be better for myself,” was his reply.
After his knee problems, Thomas has some stage race goals for the rest of the season, using June as a month of training and ensuring he is fully healthy, before he hopefully repeats his amazing legs in the second half of the season like he did last year.
“My biggest goals for the rest of the season are stage races like Aosta, Alsace and Tour de l’Avenir.”
The amazing thing about Thomas is that while he was always good at stage races, during his junior season in 2015, he showed he could race on cobbles, taking 3rd in the Junior Tour of Flanders, as well as 11th in the Junior Worlds RR, which featured a cobbled climb on the circuit. Does Thomas see a return to the cobbles anytime soon?
“As a junior when you were good, you were good in most races, but I think in the U23 category and on pro level, you have to focus more on one kind of races and cobbled races are not my best kind of races.”
Thankfully, Thomas has one more season after this year to try and find a pro deal, but he has also not given up on perhaps making the jump to the pros after this season, if the opportunity presents itself.
“This summer I turn 21 so I have still another year to become stronger but I hope to turn professional after this season or next year.”
When we asked Thomas what pro race he wanted to win the most, he ended the interview with a shocking answer. After speaking of his love of stage races throughout the interview, he threw us a real curveball with his answer.
“Strade Bianche is my dream race, I think it suits me because it’s technical and it has a bit of climbing in it.”
Thomas and his team have some real injury issues at the minute, but if they can sort those out, he has the potential to be one of the best climbers in the U23 rankings over the next 18 months. Fingers crossed that Thomas can keep racing and reach his full potential.
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Thomas for answering our questions, as well as the Lotto-Soudal press team for setting the interview up. If you want to follow Thomas on Twitter, his handle is @t_vereecken.