Verbrugghe: It's a great honour to be the Belgian national coach

44-year-old will also remain a DS at Bahrain-Merida for now

Belgian Cycling's new men's road coach, Rik Verbrugghe, described being given his new role as "a great honour" at a press conference held at the federation's headquarters in Forest, just outside Brussels, on Thursday.

The former professional rider for teams such as Cofidis, Lotto and Quick-Step was announced as the new men's road coach by the Belgian cycling federation on Wednesday, and will take over the coaching of the elite and under-23 riders from December 1. He'll also continue as a sports director with WorldTour team Bahrain-Merida.

"As a country, Belgium has always been a leader in the international cycling world," said Verbrugghe, "and that's why I see it as a great honour to be here as the head coach at Belgian Cycling."

He'll be assisted in his role by current national cyclo-cross coach Sven Vanthourenhout, who will work principally with the U23 riders, but will be ready to lend a hand whenever Verbrugghe needs it.

"I see this as a great opportunity to broaden my experience as a coach," Vanthourenhout, who attended the recent UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, where the Belgian men's team was led by outgoing national coach Kevin De Weert, told the press.

"In Innsbruck, I could see that an extra coach is certainly not a luxury," he said, "and because Rik will still be quite busy in the coming months, I'm ready to help wherever necessary."

While Vanthourenhout will continue as national cyclo-cross coach, Verbrugghe confirmed that he would also be continuing as a directeur sportif for Bahrain-Merida, for the short-term at least.

"I want to ensure that I fulfil my obligations to the team, but the intention is that it [role with the team] will slowly be phased out," explained Verbrugghe.

Het Laatste Nieuws reported Verbrugghe as saying that he will not attend the Tour de France for the team, and that, after June, he will "mainly focus on the riders' race programmes", while presumably building towards the UCI Road World Championships that take place in Yorkshire, in the UK, in September 2019, for which he'll select the Belgian elite men's and under-23 teams.

The 2018 road Worlds in Innsbruck were a disappointment for the national squad, with only junior rider Remco Evenepoel truly shining, taking gold in both the junior time trial and road race, ahead of a move to WorldTour outfit Deceuninck-QuickStep for 2019.

That younger generation will form much of Verbrugghe and the federation's focus in the coming years.

"Whoever has the youth has the future, and good work is being done in the federation's youth academy, which I'm already looking forward to later working on and adding my personal 'touch' to," Verbrugghe said.

"Based on his vision and his experience, he immediately stood out," Belgian Cycling's technical director Frederik Broché added at the press conference of the federation's choice of Verbrugghe for the new role.

"As a rider and team leader, Rik was active at the biggest teams, and he also earned his spurs by working with young riders. The way he looked at things convinced us very quickly. That he will stay active for a while at Bahrain-Merida was no problem for us, especially as he'll eventually stop working with them.

"He'll only sometimes be directing the [Bahrain-Merida] team's riders from the team car, and will mainly focus on the riders' race programmes, so I don't foresee any problems in that respect," said Broché.

"We're convinced that by having brought in Rik Verbrugghe, we have a top coach, and a man who can bring out the best from our riders and our organisation."

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