As professional cycling explores new corners of the globe, there is still a steady stream of young riders emerging from the sport’s heartlands - Flandrien Edward Theuns, 24, is one of them. He is a rising Classics star who has moved from Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise to the WorldTour with Trek-Segafredo for 2016.
Theuns was second at this year’s Dwars door Vlaanderen behind his teammate, second at Scheldeprijs behind Alexander Kristoff, and a further 11 times in the top-10 at one-day races. These performances have paved his path to a WorldTour contract and heightened expectations.
Cyclingnews caught up with the Belgian at Trek-Segafredo’s winter camp in Spain to discuss 2015, linking up with Fabian Cancellara, and what lies ahead.
Cyclingnews: First of all, now you’ve had a bit of time to reflect, how do you assess your 2015 season?
Edward Theuns: “I’m really proud of my season. I was very good for all of the season, so that’s a good sign. I only won three races, so maybe for a rider like me that’s not enough but I had a lot of second and third places, so if I can turn those into victories that would be better.
“I had a breakthrough in the Flemish races – they’re the races I really like – so I hope I continue to do well. I showed I can win those races, I was second in Dwars, but I think I was the strongest, so I really think I can win those races.”
CN: Was Dwars the highlight?
Theuns: “Yes. I’ve dreamed of winning that kind of race one day and I thought at the strongest [point] in my career I would compete for the win. That showed I can already compete for the win, so that’s a bit earlier than I thought.
“I had a steady growth like the last couple of years, already in my first year with the pros I felt good. I won a UCI race, so if you do that as a first year that’s a good sign. I knew I was good, then the better riders in the team left, and I had more of my own chances, and I took them with both hands.”
CN: What allowed you to kick on so much this year?
Theuns: “The biggest thing is sprinting – it has really improved. I can go to the sprints with a little bit more in reserve, so I can do my positioning a bit better and have a bit more left for the sprints. That’s a big difference in the end. I learned a lot about positioning in the Classics – when you have to be in the front, that kind of thing.”
CN: How long have you been eyeing up a move to WorldTour level?
Theuns: “My first goal was to turn pro, and I was happy to do that two years ago. After my first year with the pros I felt I was in the right place, I was confident I could be a good pro, so I hoped to get to the WorldTour after this season. That was a goal at the start of the year so I’m very happy to now be a part of this team.”
CN: Other teams must have been interested too?
Theuns: “Yeah, there were a lot of teams interested, but one of my favourites was Trek – they showed a big interest, with [directeur sportif] Dirk Demol also, he’s a Belgian, we had good talks. I think this is the best team for me at the moment.”
CN: What about the Belgian teams?
Theuns: “Yeah the Belgian teams were interested but the negotiations didn’t go that far. The team with the biggest interest was Trek. Before the interest was there Trek was one of my favourite teams. I like the team composition; there’s Fabian of course, but behind him there’s space for new guys in the Flemish Classics. In other teams like QuickStep or Lotto there are four or five really big riders for the Classics.”
CN: What’s it like to be in the same team as Cancellara?
Theuns: “If you’re a young guy you look up to those riders, so it’s a special feeling to be in the team with him. I’m really looking forward to it because we have a big leader and he’s one of the riders that can win the big races. That’s an important thing for motivation.”
CN: Can you see him being something of a mentor to you?
Theuns: “One of the areas where I can learn the most is from a guy like him. He has all the experience of growing into the Classics, riding them, and winning them. He has been very friendly, really relaxed, and we have talked a little bit. He has the right things to say to young guys, and knows how to act in situations.”
CN: What’s it like stepping up a level to the WorldTour?
Theuns: “It’s a different kind of riding. At Topsport we could do what we wanted and if we had good results it was great but if we didn’t it wasn’t a problem. Maybe that’s going to change a bit this year. We’ll race with one team leader in the Classics and that’s a big difference.
“At Topsport we didn’t have a training camp in December, so that’s new. All the activities, like bike fitting, social media training, a lot things change. We did testing on the track for the time trial position, so a lot is new for me.”
CN: What do you hope to achieve in 2016?
Theuns: “One of the main goals for the team is winning a big Classic with Fabian. I hope to be a part of that. If I could help him to win a Classic that would be great. On the other side, in the races just behind the big Classics, I hope to get some good results and win those races.
“I hope to perform at the same races I was good at this year. Last year I wasn’t so good at Flanders and Roubaix, because those races were still a bit too hard and long for me, but the 200km races in Flanders really suit me. I hope I can start them with more of a free role.”
CN: What about five years from now?
Theuns: “In my first year as a pro I got to 200km at Flanders, last year 220, so there’s still a positive evolution. I hope that keeps going and I can go on to win a big Classic one day. It’s hard to say at this stage, but I hope so.”
CN: What race would mean the most to you to win?
Theuns: “The Tour of Flanders, for a Belgian guy, is the big one. Also Het Niuewsblad is a special one because it starts and finishes in my home town, Gent.”