Team Coop in Norway are quietly assembling a roster of young Norwegian talent, led by 20-year-old starlet Hakon Aalrust. The UCI Continental team scored a big win when Aalrust extended his deal through to the end of next season recently, as he is a real threat in both the Norwegian stage races and various U23 races, where he plays a key role in the Norwegian national team.
We were fortunate enough to have Hakon, a very good one-day specialist, speak exclusively to us, so you, the readers, can get to know this outrageously strong talent better.
“This season is my second as an U23, and I have already been taking some steps from last year, which have resulted in participation for the national team of Norway in a lot of Nations Cup races. The season overall has been good, and I have got extra motivation to go further next year. Top 10 in Gent- Wevelgem, and podium spots in Course de la Paix and Tour de l’Avenir stages is more than I had expected before the season began.”
Indeed, Hakon started the season on fire, taking 6th in a highly entertaining edition of U23 Gent-Wevelgem, as well as taking second on stage one of the Peace Race and third on a l’Avenir stage, where he took the race lead for a day after Norway’s strong performance in the TTT. One-day races and individual stages appear to suit Hakon, and he says the hillier those days are, the better for him, as he gave U23 Cycling Zone an honest assessment of his strengths and weaknesses.
“I’m more the kind of classic rider with punch in short climbs, and I also enjoy technical terrain as I have a background in mountainbike and cyclocross. I like to draw similarity with riders like Greg van Avermaet and Niki Terpstra. I still need to work on my strength on longer climbs and in time-trials to be up there to win races though.”
While some riders may be disheartened by coming so close to winning a big race on a few occasions and not winning, Hakon’s near misses have given him even more belief that he can be very successful at the U23 level and beyond.
“To be honest, it’s a huge motivational boost for me. I still have some years left in the U23 category and it gives me confidence to believe that I can win those races in the future with more experience.”
Another confidence boost came when Hakon’s strong opening part of the race allowed him to take the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de l’Avenir after a brilliant team time trial from his Norway squad. Hakon spoke about his day leading the biggest stage race in the U23 world. However, his day soon turned to disaster, as he goes on to explain.
“Riding in yellow is always special for me, but to do it in the biggest U23 race on the calendar, Tour de l’Avenir, is incredible. It makes me proud, and I wanted it so bad to stay in the jersey for several days. Unfortunately, a nasty crash ruined my hope this year. I guess I experienced both sides of cycling in just 24 hours, as the happiness was turned upside down when I had to abandon the race in yellow.”
A new experience arrived this season in the form of Team Coop being invited to the Volta a Portugal. The race took place just before l’Avenir, so while Hakon didn’t finish, he was able to relay some stories from the Cyclingnews forum’s consensus favorite race to discuss.
“Well, yes, I can confirm Volta a Portugal is the craziest race I have ever done. It was just so warm, all the stages above 45 degrees and always up and down made it pretty tough. The plan already from the start was to exit the race on the rest day to go home and prepare for l’Avenir. So I never raced the real mountain stages, but I believe it was fast and furious also there.”
Unfortunately, Hakon is not going to be racing in Innsbruck at the Worlds, as his l’Avenir crash had a longer-lasting effect than what was initially thought. Hakon will return to the cyclocross bike in the winter to begin prepping for the 2019 season.
“The crash in l’Avenir took me out for a bit longer than expected, so we have decided to cut the season short now and get some rest before I will do some cyclocross races in the winter.”
Given his one-day pedigree and affinity for both cobbles and short, sharp climbs, there was always only going to be one pro race Hakon desired to win above all else.
“If I could win one pro race, it would be De Ronde van Vlaanderen. It is the coolest classic race of the year in my opinion, it has brutal climbs on the cobbles and the weather is usually grim. If you win this race you’re a real classic rider and a true hero.”
Hakon Aalrust is a really big talent and he is going to be up there with the biggest favourites in almost all of the big U23 one-day races in 2019. If he can escape the bad luck and faster finishers that plagued him in 2018, we fully believe Hakon Aalrust will win some races in 2019.
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Hakon for taking part in the interview and we wish him all the best for 2019, as well as a speedy recovery from his injuries. If you want to follow Hakon, his Twitter handle is @haakonaalrust.