Belgian teenager Ilan Van Wilder was one of the standout performers at last year's Tour de L'Avenir, taking third overall at the premier U23 race of the calendar. Earlier in 2019 he finished fifth at the Course de la Paix, winning a stage along the way, and capped his year with a Flandrien of the Future award from Het Nieuwsblad, making him an instant future rival of fellow Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel.
In 2020, he turned professional with Team Sunweb, making the move from the Lotto Soudal U23 team to the WorldTour at the age of 19. He was due to ride Strade Bianche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this spring, but the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic put paid to that.
Cyclingnews caught up with Van Wilder at his debut pro race, the Volta ao Algarve.
Cyclingnews: You finished 17th overall here. How was your first race in the WorldTour ranks?
Ilan Van Wilder: It was great. I really enjoyed it. It was a nice experience, with nice teamwork and we got a good result with Tiesj Benoot. I'm really happy with my first race in the pros from a personal point of view.
There were really hard stages with some hard finals. I managed to keep in the first group on the second summit finish and finished 16th. It was a world class field of riders so I'm really happy with my race, only five days in the pro peloton.
CN: How has your integration with your new team been?
IVW: I didn't know anyone personally before I joined, but of course I followed the guys before. It's a really nice atmosphere and a good team.
One of the reasons I chose Sunweb was becaue of the young average age here. I think it's 23 or 24 yeard old. I'm only 19, turning 20 in May, so it's a young team and that was important for me.
CN: You rode for Lotto's U23 squad. Did you have a tough choice when you turned pro?
IVW: There were some other teams I was talking to as well as these two. I think I just made the best decision I could have made. I looked at the positive and negative aspects of every team and now here I am with Sunweb. I don't regret any of the choices I made, so I'm really happy here.
CN: Considering your Tour de l'Avenir performance, is the general classification in stage races what you're focused on for your career?
IVW: The things I want to develop are my climbing and time trials skills to target GC. That's what I like and hopefully I can make my dream come true. Normally my time trial has been very good, at least in the U23 category [he finished 24th in the Algarve time trial – Ed.].
CN: How did you get started in the sport?
IVW: I had nobody in my family that was in cycling. It was just out of the blue that I started cycling. I was swimming from the age of 5 to 14. Then I started getting competitive in cycling, but I'm the first from my family.
CN: The likes of Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar are achieving big things at a young age. Are they something to aspire towards?
IVW: They're super talents, but I think I need a bit more time than these guys. I don't know that it's bad, though – I think it's better this way. I'm just improving every year and then we will see in five years where I will be.
CN: Finally, what are your short-term goals?
IVW: Before the season I had no goals apart from learning and watching the other guys doing what they're good at. Now I finished with a good time trial and ended my first pro race in the top 20 overall, so that's already good. But I still don't have any racing goals yet. I'll just let the races come to me and we'll see what happens during them.