An interview with Steven Van Vooren, October 28, 2007
On Sunday September 16 Steven Van Vooren became the second member of the Cycle Center team to win the Circuit du Port after Finnish star, Jussi Veikkanen rode away with the win before turning professional for French ProTour outfit, La Francais des Jeux five years ago. The UCI 1.12 'Circuit du Port de Dunkerque', a technical race held in and around the French shipping port of Dunkerque which is organised by the same folks as the Four days of Dunkerque, is an important race for young riders who are looking to progress into the professional ranks, that the race has a larger than normal prize purse is merely a bonus. Previous winners of the race that dates back to 1929, include 1974 Tour de France green jersey winner, Patrick Sercu and even former Tour de France president Jean Marie Leblanc. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé caught up with the most recent winner of the race to discuss the 2007 season as well as what the future holds for this bright young star.
The way that the 20 year old Belgian, Van Vooren, who rides as part of the Cycling Center power by Ergomo Team, an American team based in the Belgian town of Hertsberge rode the tough race was impressive. Not only did he win the race, but he also won the points classification, the under 23 classification and the 500 € prime that was on offer at the half way point, as well as several other smaller primes along the way. In short, Van Vooren dominated the event. Van Vooren's win is the second time that a rider from the cycling school has won the event, a fact that isn't lost on the tall Belgian. "Our director told us this race was won by Jussi before and that winning this race had been the start of Jussi's pro-career," he said pointing out that he was informed that a strong performance in Dunkerque would be noted by experts.
For Van Vooren his win in Dunkerque was the icing on the cake after a successful season that saw him ride at a constant high level throughout. "In total I entered about 45 races and in 31 I made the finale, resulting in 15 podium-places but no wins till Sunday." For insiders it is no surprise that Van Vooren has started winning big races as his progress and results have been on some continental and pro-teams' radar for some time. The surprise is that he has decided to stay at the international cycling development school in Belgium for another year even though he has received a number of offers for next season.
Bernard Moerman, the manager of the school, along with his wife Ann, set up the Cycling Center to guide up and coming young riders into the world of professional cycling in an environment that would teach them not only how to prepare physically for the rigorous ProTour racing but also how to live like professional's. A technique that has become increasingly popular around the world as it teaches riders to prepare for a life after they finish their professional career as well as instilling strong values that will hopefully keep them away from the lure of doping. Moermann's academy has been so successful since it's inception that there are plans to take the team to the next level and start a professional continental team.
For Van Vooren, the school has been a major part of his development and he believes that he still has more to learn before taking the next step. "I wan to go pro when I feel I'm totally ready for it. The guidance we all get from director Bernard and Dr. Dag Van Elslande is state of the art. If you look at our team you'll see there's a mix of riders from Belgium, Columbia, USA, Taiwan, Bahrain, Sweden and Canada and you see how much progress we all made this year. In all stage-races we entered we finished in the top-7 team-rankings," he explained.
"The entire program is awesome! It started with a super professional training camp at Altitude in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There we got tested by specialists and Bernard even flew over experts like Dr. Dag Van Elslande [ex team-doctor for Discovery channel] and Dr. Andy Pruitt from Boulder (CO). Then our racing season brought us to lots of stage races and top U23 international races in several countries in Europe. All training-efforts are monitored with Ergomo and Cyclingpeaks. This way we do not loose any time. Besides the physical part Bernard and his wife Ann teach us to live like professionals as well. Little details can make big differences, the results of all this are very much visible."
Van Vooren has nothing but praise for the system that Moerman has set up, and believes that is the reason why so many of its graduates have gone onto race for professional teams all over the world. "This year the Cycling Center program is really showing it's value. Obviously you can look at what I achieved but also take a look at what some of my team-mates did. Guys like David Nelson, Peter Horn, Scott Tietzel, Aaron Pool, Jim Camut, Colt Trant, Vince Roberge, Bruno Depoorter, Aaron Boyleston and I'm forgetting some for sure, made huge steps forward. Thanks to Bernard's down to earth selection method and his work on teamwork we had a splendid year and I'm proud I could do something to give back to the team that worked very hard for me all year," Van Vooren said referring to his win in Dunkerque.
The decision to remain in the squad under the guidance of Moerman for another year was an easy one for Van Vooren, who believes that the team is growing at a pace that is conductive to his own development and with the support that is available he believes that 2008 will be an even better one than 2007. "The team is growing at the pace we are growing, so it give us a lot of comfort. Seeing guys like Santiago Rosell growing is another unbelievable thing. Last year this guy arrived here at the Cycling Center with no experience and a history of being an over 300 pounds guy when he was 17 years old. This program made 'Santy' change in two years into a valuable team-mate in UCI-races. Where would a guy like him get so many chances in a highly competitive environment?"
2008 is Van Vooren's last in the under 23 ranks and he still has a number of goals that he wishes to achieve before stepping up into the big leagues and like most pros, his preparation's will begin long before the first race of the new season.
"In November we start again and in late January we fly back to Albuquerque to our training camp over there. It looks like we will do several important big races in the USA as well. Bernard told me that Tour of the Gila and Tour of Pennsylvania will be big-time priorities for the USA-program together with stage-races like Tour de la Manche in France, RAS-race in Ireland, Fleche du sud in Luxembourg and then 4 stage-races in the summer-months in Belgium and one more stage-race in Italy," Van Vooren said, naming all the major races for 2008 that he hopes to take part in, before adding "another priority for me will be the Belgian time trial championship, it's my last U23 chance, so I better move on," he laughed. "If I can make as much improvement as this season, I think I'll be ready for the next step."
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