When Guillaume Van Keirsbulck sat down for his press conference after taking overall victory at the Three Days of De Panne, a member of the race organisation placed a beer on the table in front of him only for Omega Pharma-QuickStep press officer Alessandro Tegner to discreetly move it to one side.
A hint, perhaps, that Van Keirsbulck will feature in the QuickStep team for the Tour of Flanders this weekend, but even after sealing victory in De Panne, the Belgian was reluctant to count his chickens before they hatch. “I’m in good shape but tomorrow we’ll know the selection,” Van Keirsbulck said cagily when asked about Sunday’s race.
Now in his fourth year with QuickStep, Van Keirsbulck’s lone appearance in De Ronde came as a raw 20-year-old neo-professional in 2011. His failure to make the line-up in the subsequent two years perhaps owes as much to the team’s increased strength in depth as to his own development, although Van Keirsbulck appears to have made a leap in quality this season. Best young rider at the Tour of Qatar, he impressed in support of Tom Boonen at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and finished second overall at the Three Days of West Flanders.
“Well, in the winter I had some back problems, a hernia, and I was a little bit scared I would miss the start of the season,” Van Keirsbulck said. “But after the Tour de San Luis, I went to Milan for a procedure and that made a big difference. That changed a lot because it meant that I had power in my right leg again.”
Van Keirsbulck is the grandson of 1963 world champion Benoni Beheyt, who controversially beat his fellow countryman Rik Van Looy to win that title in Ronse. Like his grandfather, Van Keirsbulck’s victory in De Panne did not follow the preordained script, but through no fault of his own.
QuickStep’s Gert Steegmans led the race into the 14km concluding time trial, while Niki Terpstra had seemed the man most likely to win overall for the team, only to break a pedal on the start ramp and slip to fourth place in the overall rankings.
It was instead left to Van Keirsbulck to keep QuickStep’s end up, as he powered to 5th place on the stage, enough to put him seven seconds clear of Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) in the final overall standings.
“At first I didn’t believe it when they called me to the podium. I thought Niki was going to win. He’s one of the best time trial riders on the team here and I thought he would be the winner today, or maybe Gert,” Van Keirsbulck said.
“But I did a good time trial. There was a lot of wind and there were a lot of corners at the start, but Rik Van Slycke was giving me instructions and he told me I was set for a good time. He said if I got the rider in front of me it would be a good time trial but you know he was [under-23] world champion [Durbridge] so it wasn’t so easy to catch him.”
Still only 23 years of age and bearing an uncanny resemblance to his leader Boonen when they are side by side in their QuickStep kit, the expectations surrounding Van Keirsbulck will only begin to rise still further in the wake of his De Panne victory. He noted quietly, however, that in the longer term, he is more likely to shine on the pavé of Paris-Roubaix than on the hellingen of the Tour of Flanders.
“I’ve done Paris-Roubaix three times already but something has always happened at the Forest of Wallers. The first year I had a flat tyre, the second year a crash and last year I broke my wheel,” he said. “Still, Paris-Roubaix is more a race for me [than Flanders]. I like the cobbles, I don’t know why but I’m good on the cobbles there.”