Ben Hermans says that he has no excuses not to perform when he assumes a leadership role at the Israel Cycling Academy next season. Hermans is one of a 10 new recruits for the Pro Continental squad as they look to strengthen their roster for 2018 season.
The Belgian is stepping down to the second tier of cycling after eight seasons at WorldTour level, the last four with BMC Racing. It is a move that brings with it more freedom but also more pressure and a chance to see what he is capable of when he can fully race for himself.
"It was a really tough decision to make when I had to choose between BMC and this team," Hermans told Cyclingnews in Israel at the team’s recent training camp. "Then I talked to a lot of people around me and they said to me that in this team I would get more opportunities for myself. In the last eight years, I had chances but never really as a leader. Now, I have the team around me to support me and to give me more freedom. I don’t have an excuse anymore."
Hermans had the chance to meet his new team at a four-day camp in Israel that pushed the riders with a two-day hike through the mountains near Jerusalem and provided them with an opportunity to learn about the history of the country, the good and the bad. Hermans and the new inductees were also introduced to the team owners Ron Baron and Sylvan Adams, the latter of whom greeted his new star rider by saying, “next year is going to be a big one for you.”
With the calendar still a very loose structure at the moment, Hermans has not set himself any specific ambitions for the 2018 season. For the Belgian, it is about hanging with the best as long as he can whatever the race may be.
"I don’t think that the team is expecting me to win Tirreno-Adriatico or the Giro, but for me, the expectations are always to be there in the front with the top riders and to maybe get a top 10 result in a GC," he explained. "When you go top 10 then you want to be top five and then you want to be on the podium. You always want to do better until you win."
Deceptively baby-faced, the 31-year-old Hermans is a veteran of the peloton after turning professional with Topsport Vlaanderen back in 2009. He has proved himself a reliable worker, but there were flashes of promise throughout the years. There are stage wins at the Tour of Belgium, the Tour de Yorkshire and the Arctic Race of Norway on his palmares, as well as victory at Brabantse Pijl and second overall at the Tour of Austria.
However, it wasn’t until this year that he enjoyed something of a breakthrough with overall success and a stage win at the Tour of Oman. The win was marred by some hefty crashes soon after and an illness that took him out of the Giro d’Italia. Another major crash at the Tour de Pologne almost ended his season and left him with a litany of injuries. Hermans was able to bounce back surprisingly quickly and rode another 19 race days following the crash. He closed his season with fifth at the Tour of Guangxi and says that it will not impact him in 2018.
"Six weeks apart I broke some ribs and it’s not easy to find the motivation and the same results as when you start the season winning three races in one week," explained Hermans. "Then again, I had a hard crash in the Tour of Poland but I managed to come back strong and I can go into the winter without any hesitation.
"I still have some pain where I broke some bones when there is colder weather but I proved myself in the last races of the season that I can do top 10 in WorldTour races so it won’t be a problem in the next season."
The Giro d’Italia
The precise make-up of Hermans’ 2018 programme remains to be seen with the team awaiting wild card decisions from WorldTour races. The announcement they are awaiting most eagerly is that of the four available spots at the Giro d’Italia. With the race starting in Jerusalem, it seems highly likely that they will be there on May 4. If the almost certain happens, Hermans is likely to be on the front line for selection for Israel Cycling Academy's debut Grand Tour.
Hermans’ Grand Tour appearances have been sporadic since his first ride at the 2012 Giro d’Italia. He believes that he does have the capacity to pull out a strong general classification result, but says that a stage victory would likely prove more beneficial than a half-decent GC spot.
"I have proved it before. In the Vuelta in 2016, I went 14th supporting other guys in the GC and this year I was 12th when I left the Giro with illness, so I proved that I can do top 10 in the best circumstances but it is not a real objective for the team also. When you win a stage, it is better than finishing ninth in the GC, publicity-wise," Hermans told Cyclingnews.
"I will probably go for a stage win first. I think that in a team like Israel Cycling Academy you have more chances to win a stage than on a big WorldTour team, because they don’t let you ride when you can be a support rider for a big leader in the final."