It's been a special week for Yves Lampaert. The 26-year-old Belgian rider rode impressively in the breakaway at E3 Harelbeke with winning teammate Niki Terpstra and then captured a repeat victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen. It's only natural he's suddenly found himself on the list of contenders for the Tour of Flanders, but he played down his stature.
With his aggressive racing style and spontaneous post-race chat in his thick West-Flemish dialect, he's gained a lot of attention in Flanders. Over the last few days, it was hard to miss him on the radio and TV. For a moment, he's become the new Tom Boonen.
"Becoming the successor of Tom Boonen isn't possible. I'm a good rider but not a champion like Tom. That's not a disgrace. Winning the Ronde? If everything goes my way then that's possible," Lampaert said at the Quick-Step Floors pre-Ronde press conference.
Later, when sitting down with Cyclingnews, he spoke about his career dreams. With a national time trial title, a stage win in the Vuelta a España and two wins in Dwars door Vlaanderen, Lampaert has already bagged a few of those goals.
"I was always a fan of the Belgian riders. Wim Vansevenant was a grand bloke. Niko Eeckhout too," Lampaert told Cyclingnews. If not the new Boonen, then maybe Lampaert is the new Rambo.
"I'm not quite there yet. He had quite the palmarès. I dream of becoming Belgian champion one day. I hope that I'm able to mix in for the victory at all the Classics: Roubaix, Flanders, all the Classics. I prefer Paris-Roubaix if I've got to choose. I hope to get a stage win in the Tour de France as I did in the Vuelta. I need a perfect day.
"My goal was to become Belgian time trial champion. Becoming time trial world champion seems out of reach. I need a really flat course like the one in Qatar, but that's not often the case at the World Championships. I continue to work on my time trial. It makes me a better rider, and it's a benefit at the Grand Tours too, for the climbing work. A prologue is something that suits me. Winning a stage in every Grand Tour should be possible. My stage win in the Vuelta provided me with a lot of confidence. I'll start the Tour de France to get stage wins for [Fernando] Gaviria and to work in the GC for Bob. It'll provide me with a first taste of the Tour."
Meanwhile, Lampaert tries to stay as down to earth as possible despite all the media attention. "I don't think too much about it. I don't let it get to my head. I think this is the way to do it with an eye on the future. I'm a joker. I like to make fun. It probably gains me sympathy. You've got to watch out though, that they don't enlarge it too much," Lampaert told Cyclingnews.
One of the words that gained notice in his post-race chat is the verb 'skarten', which he used to indicate that he has to scratch to the bottom to continue his effort.
"It's not an original angle anymore. It does show that they like the way I am. People seem to be happy when I won the race. I'm glad that they don't begrudge me the victory. I wouldn't want to be someone who isn't liked in the peloton. For now, I'm always chatting around in the peloton," Lampaert said.
While it's a good thing to remain humble in a star-studded team like Quick-Step Floors, it's likely important to fight for your spot too.
"Tom Steels tells me to stay ambitious. I'm enough of a down-to-earth person to realize that I shouldn't try to discuss with someone with a palmarès like Philippe Gilbert. Sometimes I'm surprised to see that other teams sometimes move forward a rider as team leader while they seem to have a more impressive rider in their ranks. This time around, I kind of morphed into the role that Matteo Trentin had last year.
"Now, I no longer have to work straight from the start like last year. I've got to read the race of course, and if a big group goes then, I've got to be there. I'm joining the leaders as the fourth man. The level of the team seems higher compared to last year. We moved to Greg Van Avermaet's level from last year. There wasn't much possible against him back then."
With the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, Lampaert is focused on performing well for Quick-Step Floors. After their recent performances, winning 20 races this season, Lampaert realized that they'd have to carry the weight of the race.
"We won't get much space from the other teams on Sunday. We're confident. We have to ride or own race. We don't have to act in a special way. We still need to talk tactics. Phil and Niki are the tactical masterminds, and Tom Steels of course," Lampaert said.
When asked who were the strongest riders in the team right now, Lampaert didn't know who to pick. "Niki is really strong. Phil managed a second place on Friday, and he was strong on Sunday too. They are probably the two strongest riders in the team, but then Stybi showed his capabilities on the Taaienberg on Wednesday. It's hard to say who's the strongest," Lampaert said.
One of the key factors to ride a good Ronde is knowing the roads around Flanders. Lampaert knows his way and picked out to difficult spots on this year's course.
"The Koppenberg is the hardest part of the race. There's a lot of space between the cobbles. The cobbles on the Oude Kwaremont just before the houses are the worst of the race. I noticed that they repaved one of the worst bits. It was a short section of maybe five metres, but I knew that bit and found a way around it."
Last year, Lampaert finished 36th in the Ronde. In 2015, he finished seventh in Paris-Roubaix. His 2016 spring Classics season was marred when a shopping cart hurt his ankle just ahead of his early-season campaign.
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