Bjorg Lambrecht will make his pro cycling debut with Lotto Soudal in 2018, and the team is prepared to give him 'all the time he needs to grow and to mature,' according to team manager Marc Sergeant. The Tour de l'Avenir runner-up and under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner looks to be among the most promising prospects the WorldTour squad has signed in recent seasons.
"At the beginning of this year, I had never thought that I could make the transition to the pro peloton in January 2018," Lambrecht said via a Lotto Soudal press release on Monday.
The 22-year-old Belgian enjoyed a stellar season at the U23 level in 2017, riding with Lotto Soudal's developmental squad. He powered to his Liège victory in April and followed it up with other strong performances, including second-place overall finishes in the Giro Valle d'Aoste, the Tour de Savoie Mont-Blanc and the Tour de l'Avenir, the premier stage race for cycling's up-and-coming prospects.
In September he rode the 1.1-rated GP de Wallonie – where Lotto Soudal's Tim Wellens nabbed the victory – and registered a top 10 finish as a member of the national team. His consistent success across the year led him to a pro deal in the sport's top division. The team announced his signing on Friday.
"Last winter I was out for eight weeks with a broken foot and I was only able to do some stabilization exercises to get ready for the new season. I thought my level of fitness would be far too low in the first races. I was supposed to come back to racing after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but I could somehow start a bit earlier than expected," Lambrecht said. "In Liège-Bastogne-Liège, I had a great day and I won the race. I went on and had a super great season. My performances in the Tour de l'Avenir in August led to the decision to make the transition to the professional peloton at the beginning of 2018. Many talented U23 riders have signed a pro contract for January 2018, and I would have had a lot of pressure on my shoulders. With the pros, I can start from scratch."
Sergeant did not hold back in his praise for the young talent, but also says the team is committed to giving him room to grow rather than heaping pressure on his shoulders.
"He seems to be very down-to-earth, he isn't too bothered by the stress and the pressure, but now begins a new story," Sergeant said.
"He has always been progressing so far, but there's a lot of learning to be done for a young climber in his first years with the pros. I often hear about 'the new Boonen' or 'the next Belgian Grand Tour rider' when it comes to promising young talents, but I hope that he does not get that sort of expectation from the media and the outside world. The team will let him all the time he needs to grow and to mature, and even if he shows some flashes of talent, the process will always involve falling and getting up, good and difficult moments."
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