Don't mistake Jolien D'hoore's modest disposition off the bike as a sign of weakness because she is one of the most powerful, fierce racers in the world. She has big plans for 2016 that include a victory at Tour of Flanders, a medal in track racing at the Rio Olympics and maybe even a world title in Doha, Qatar. For a Belgian who prefers to let her legs do the talking, she has a good shot at completing this trifecta.
"It's a Belgian thing," D'hoore laughed when asked about her calm, almost reserved disposition. "The mentality in Belgium is always very humble, compared to the Dutchies. We are very grounded, and that's a good thing but in the race, you have to aim high."
Hard work and high aspirations are the keys behind D'hoore's accomplishments. At only 25-years-old, she has amassed victories at the Diamond Tour, Vargarda World Cup, Ronde van Drenthe, Omloop van het Hageland-Tielt-Winge, stages at the Boels Rental Ladies Tour and the overall title at the BeNe Ladies Tour. Her 2015 results, combined with her teammates' results, are a big factor in Wiggle High5's top place in the UCI world ranking.
Despite having one of her most successful seasons on the road last year, D'hoore has decided to apply more focus to track racing in 2016, to prepare for the Olympic Games. There she hopes to compete in the Omnium for a medal.
Her winter track preparation, which included competing in the UCI Track World Cup and attending several track camp sessions with the Belgium national team, will all come to a head at the UCI Track World Championships in London from March 2-6.
"Right now I'm here with the Belgian track team in Portugal," D'hoore told Cyclingnews. "I'm doing quite a few of these track camps with the Belgian team. We only have one track, and it's not fast, so that's why we go in search for other tracks, which are a bit faster. That's why I travel a lot."
At the World Championships, D'hoore will race in the scratch race and the Omnium, and it is the last track event before the Olympic Games. At the Games, she will only compete in the Omnium and believes that she could win a medal, which is not out of the question after she took the bronze medal in the Omnium at the World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand in December. She might have medalled in the Hong Kong World Cup, too, had she not crashed and sustained two broken ribs there in January.
"You always have to believe that you can win when you start an Omnium, but it is very difficult because there are a lot of good contenders," said D'hoore, who prefers the mass-start events.
"It depends on the details, we will see, maybe I can go for a podium. The event that I really like are the bunch races like the elimination, scratch and points races. I think that's because I'm more like a roadie."
Tour of Flanders - "I'm going for it"
D'hoore, a multiple-time national road race champion, embodies everything one would expect from a Belgian classics racer. She's strong, powerful and technically savvy on challenging, varied terrain; a perfect combination of strength and skill to win a race like the Tour of Flanders.
"Track, of course, is my priority this year," D'hoore said. "I am also starting the Tour of Flanders, and that is a race that I love, and it's on home roads, so I would really like to do well. Tour of Flanders is one of my road goals.
"It's a tough one, and with the track preparation, I don't know how I will go, but I'm going for it."
Last year, she dominated the bunch sprint and finished second to her solo teammate Elisa Longo Borghini, which is a good indication that if the race comes down to a group sprint this year, she has what it takes to win.
Although she has spent most of her off-season and pre-classics season on the track, D'hoore said she will have plenty of preparation for Flanders before she takes the start line on April 3.
"My first road race will be the World Cup in Drenthe, which I won last year," D'hoore said. "It's only one week after Worlds in London, so it is going to be more difficult than last year. We will see, we will have a strong team and maybe we can do something for the team there.
"Then, I will do every race until the Tour of Flanders, about five or six races; Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and all the difficult Belgian classics races."
D'hoore expects to rival sprinters at Qatar Worlds
When D'hoore's first two targets: Tour of Flanders in April and the Omnium at the Olympic Games in August are complete, she said she will have time to turn her attention to the World Championships in Qatar in October.
In between these three efforts, she will try to defend her title at the Belgian road championships and looks for strong performances at the Aviva Women's Tour, but she says those events are hillier this year than they were in 2015, so she may not have as much success.
She said the flatter Qatar course planned for Worlds would make for a perfect end-of-season goal.
Some of the women's peloton previewed the Worlds course in February because it was used as the opening stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. D'hoore wasn't at that race but said she received tips from some of her teammates who were there.
"I heard it's a big crit with a lot of corners, roundabouts, and I think it's going to be fast, that's for sure, maybe even tricky and dangerous, so you have to race from the start," D'hoore envisioned how the Worlds race might take shape.
"It will be mentally hard, and it will be hard to stay fresh for the end. I don't think the wind will be a big factor for the Worlds."
Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products) won the stage at the Ladies Tour of Qatar from a bunch sprint. The Dutch sprinter will go into the World Championships as the favourite, on a course that seems almost built for her technical skill, speed and power.
Asked if she could rival a rider like Wild at the World Championships in Qatar for the rainbow jersey, D'hoore said, "I'm confident in myself. I will have track preparation coming into the Worlds in Qatar, and I think that will be good to build speed and explosive power, and I will get that from the track.
"I'm confident for a good result in Qatar.
"You can't predict what could happen in a one-day race - anything could happen."