One of the first major victories of Dylan Teuns’ youth career came atop the Col du Rosier as a fifteen-year-old and in that moment, the Limburger’s predilection for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Ardennes Classics was confirmed.
The summit finish provided a radically different challenge to the fare on offer in the Flanders region, and while Teuns had grown up venerating the cobbled Classics, he quickly realised that the forested hills of southern Belgium might prove a happy hunting ground.
“My first big win as a 15-year-old came in the Ardennes, so it was already clear that those races were suiting me,” Teuns told Cyclingnews at the recent Bahrain-Merida training camp in Hvar, Croatia. “It was a climbing race, just loop over the Vecquée and the Rosier, and the race finished at the top of the Rosier too.”
Since turning professional with BMC in 2015, Teuns has gradually established himself in the hilly Classics. 13th place in La Flèche Wallonne as a neo-professional was an early signal of his intentions. He improved to place third on the Mur de Huy in 2017 before proving his mettle over 250km with another podium finish at Il Lombardia last October.
“Getting on the podium of La Flèche Wallonne was something very important, a really big step in my career. And that’s where I realised I can do even better,” said Teuns. “I feel I made another improvement from 2017 to 2018, and I’m not that old, so I think there’s still some room for progression.”
Teuns’ move to Bahrain-Merida, where he will link up with his old BMC under-23 manager – and new Belgian national coach – Rik Verbrugghe, will bring increased responsibility. Vincenzo Nibali is likely to ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a final tune-up ahead of the Giro d’Italia, but Teuns will be the principal bearer of the team’s hopes in late April. He is aware, of course, that there is still a world of difference between finishing on the podium of a Classic and winning one.
“This last step is the biggest step to make,” Teuns said. “More eyes are on you. That’s one thing. And everything needs to be 100% in these races. 99% is not enough to win. It’s one important step, I try to make, but I cannot do more than my best and give everything for these races.”
A glance at his Spring results to date suggests that La Flèche Wallonne is the Classic best-tailored to Teuns’ qualities, though he has no hesitation in plumping for Liège-Bastogne-Liège as his favourite. His best finish is still his 17th place from 2016, but as Teuns matures, he is increasingly surer of his ability over the longer distance.
“Looking back to under-23 and even my early years as a pro, I don’t have a big issue once the races get longer. It was always an advantage for me,” Teuns said. “I’m not afraid of that. Il Lombardia was the first time I did such a big result those extra 50 kilometres, and that’s another positive sign for me.”
Teuns was dismayed, however, when ASO announced its decision to take the finish of Liège-Bastogne-Liège away from the Côte de Ans for the first time since 1991. The full route has yet to be confirmed, but the uphill finish gives way to a flat finale in the centre of Liège, an alteration that has persuaded Peter Sagan to try his luck in La Doyenne in 2019.
“It will be an important change maybe not in a positive way for me because the finish will be a bit more flat,” Teuns said. “But it might open the race a bit more.”
The fourth week of April may be the centrepiece of Teuns’ spring, but it is by no means the be-all and end-all of his campaign. Already winner of the Tour de Pologne in 2017, week-long stage races are an objective throughout the year, beginning with Paris-Nice, where he placed 6th in 2018.
“Poland is a different level from Paris-Nice or Tirreno, but Paris-Nice for me last year was a really big moment,” said Teuns, who will ride the Volta Valenciana and Volta ao Algarve ahead of the Race to the Sun. “I want to work further on this going into those races knowing from last year that it’s possible to do a good result. And having a team that will support me is important.”
As an amateur, Teuns’ eclectic spread of results included a third-place finish at the mountainous Ronde de l’Isard, and he will hope to make a Tour de France debut in 2019 as part of Nibali’s supporting cast. The Diest native also has a junior Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory on his palmarès, and while the cobbled Classics are not on his agenda in 2019, he is keen to sample the races as a professional in the not-too-distant future.
“If you look to the results when I was under-23, I did podiums in cobbled races. Those races aren’t out of my head yet. I still love these races. Maybe now in the years to come, it might be worth trying,” said Teuns, who believes he can eventually combine the cobbled and Ardennes Classics in the same year.
“Tiesj Benoot did it last year. At the end he said he was a bit tired. But if you’re selective enough then I think it’s possible. If you do a full programme, it’s hard.”