It’s not easy to talk about Ilan Van Wilder without making some kind of reference to Remco Evenepoel, so let’s get that out of the way first. Separated in age by less than four months, the two Belgians have long been rivals, while Van Wilder, the younger of the pair, was often Evenepoel’s key lieutenant when they rode together in the national team in the junior ranks.
Since turning pro - Evenepoel in 2019 and Van Wilder in 2020 - the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider has overshadowed his peer at Team DSM. Yet that’s hardly surprising given the extent of the shadow that Evenepoel has cast across the peloton on frequent occasions.
This season, though, Van Wilder has become much more prominent.
After placing 10th in his first stage race of this season, the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, and 16th at last month's Tour de Romandie - where he was fourth and just a second slower than race winner Geraint Thomas in the final-day time trial, Van Wilder is currently lying fifth on GC at the Critérium du Dauphiné, having placed a hugely impressive fifth in the stage 4 time trial.
Small and powerfully built, Van Wilder is quietly spoken, the kind of the rider who’s happy to let his legs do the talking for him. Speaking to Cyclingnews at the start of Friday's stage 6 in Loriol-sur-Drôme, he said he hasn't set himself a precise target for the race. His focus, he says, is essentially on improving race by race.
"I’m hoping for a good GC finish obviously. I don’t know what place that would be exactly, but if I can finish in the top 15 that would be very good," he said, pointing out that he’s a little uncertain because of a crash on stage 5.
"I have some road rash but it’s OK. I’ll need some time to my legs turning properly today, so it’s good for me that it’s flat at the beginning of the stage so that I can get going. Hopefully I’ll be there in the final. It’s going to be a tough finale with almost all of the climbing in the last 60km, really hard."
In the end, Van Wilder came through what was a very rapid stage very well, finishing on the same time as the winner Alejandro Valverde, which boosted him two places to fifth overall, 13 seconds down on new race leader Alexey Lutsenko.
"At the beginning I needed some time for my legs to feel OK again, but then I started feeling better and better, and when the pace was hard on the climbs I felt pretty comfortable with my teammates around me," Van Wilder told Cyclingnews in Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse.
"Then, towards the end, it was just an all-out effort. I didn’t feel at my best but I was still good enough to follow and not lose any time at the line, so I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out. The next two days might suit me a little better. The climbs are longer and the pace towards the end won’t be as high as it was today - the fact that it won’t be so explosive will be better for me."
Assuming a good finish at the Dauphiné, Van Wilder doesn’t know where his race programme might take him next. To the Tour de France?
"That’s not clear yet, I’m just trying to make a step forwards in every race and it’s working out fine so far," he said.
What is clear is that we’re all going to be hearing a lot more of Ilan Van Wilder very soon.
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