The name Sean de Bie cropped up over the course of the 2015 season as one of a number of young Belgians from the Lotto Soudal team, among others, making a name for themselves on the professional scene.
It should have been the case, however, in 2014. De Bie had become U23 European champion in 2013 and earned himself a deal with the Belgian WorldTour team, but his neo-pro season ended up, by his own admission, "a total mess".
"I think I was too keen to impress," the 24-year-old tells Cyclingnews at Lotto-Soudal’s training camp in Mallorca. "I wanted to show that I was good, but I did too much and ran into a wall.
"I was so motivated in the winter and I was OK coming into the first race, but then I had a small break and I needed some training, and I went too hard too, long, and too fast. I blew up my whole body and I needed three months to recover. It went well afterwards but not great, I had a rest but then I was sick, then I was in good shape when I had no races. So it wasn’t good."
De Bie recalls how ever since he first started racing his bike as a child, he always set himself the goal of winning at least one race every year. 2014 was the only year he has failed to live up to that standard.
"I tried to make up for it with two wins this year," he quips, with the comfort afforded by now having a decent season under his belt.
The first of those wins came on the final stage of the Tour of Luxembourg, where he triumphed in a reduced bunch sprint, and backed it up three months later with a late solo move at the Primus Classic Impanis. There was also an encouraging fifth overall at the Three Days of De Panne, and fifth in the Belgian national championships.
"I tried to learn from it , and take those things with me. 2015 was a lot better," said De Bie. "It was pretty much all good. It wasn’t perfect – I think I had three or four races I wasn’t so happy about – but the rest I can say that I had a good year.
"There were a lot of highlights but just having that feeling of progression back was important."
2016: Racing Flanders and winning a smaller race
De Bie said that neither his legs nor his motivation had run dry by the end of 2015, and as such he has been able to train through the winter in the best possible shape, both mentally and physically.
His season is likely to take a similar shape to the last, starting with the GP La Marsellaise and Etoiles de Besseges before a trip to Algarve or Andalucía and then into the Classics, with the Three Days of De Panne and West Flanders thrown in for good measure.
"The Tour of Flanders fits me perfectly," says the Belgian, outlining one of his major objectives for 2016. "I’m a little too light for Roubaix but in Flanders they’re the kind of climbs I’m really good at."
That said, he describes his Flanders debut this year as "one of my worst races of the season", having dropped out some way shy of the finish, his legs still heavy after De Panne.
"These are things you need to learn, to feel how the body reacts, but I was really happy to be there," though he concedes that this time round merely earning selection will be a steep cobbled berg in itself, given Lotto’s strength in depth.
While he would play a support role at Flanders, De Bie will be seeking out his own opportunities in the slightly smaller races. He isn’t bothered about the size of the race – he just wants to win.
"I don’t really look at the level of the race, because I know when I get in a selection for Tour of Flanders, I know I have to work for Tiesj [Benoot] or Jurgen [Roelandts]. Then my personal goals are in the races a little bit below – the HC or 1.1 races. When I get my chance there I’ll go for it.
"If we’re talking about the big races, I’ve got a couple of steps to take before I get there. Maybe I take one step this year and one next year.
"Or maybe they never come," he adds with a shrug but not a trace of fear. One win a year. You sense that as long as he can carry out that childhood dream, Sean De Bie will be perfectly content with his lot.
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