There is no age limit to learning, nor to showing your true colours. At 29 years old and with many landmark performances behind him, Victor Campenaerts is rediscovering what it means to be a rookie on his home Belgian roads.
The time trial expert remains a pillar of Team Qhubeka ASSOS (formerly NTT Pro Cycling), but 2021’s spring sees him face new challenges including Dwars door Vlaanderen – A travers la Flandre. The one-day race returns to the international calendar with a men’s race (the 11th event of the 2021 UCI WorldTour) and a women’s race (UCI Class 1.1), both to be held on Wednesday March 31st.
It will be the first time Campenaerts has headed to Roeselare, where the race starts, before heading to Waregem, where the successor of Mathieu Van der Poel (winner in 2019) will be celebrated after 184.1km of effort over the cobbles and through the wind. It was also a Dutch rider who won the last women’s edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen: Ellen Van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo Women) claimed her second successive victory in 2019.
On these roads, Campenaerts will find many challenges that are different to those he’s better known for facing, most notably on the track of the Velodromo Bicentenario in Aguascalientes (Mexico), where he set the UCI Hour Record timed by Tissot (55.089km) in 2019. But he’s had time to prepare and, with his established abilities, many eyes are already on him after a successful beginning to the Classics campaign.
“Normally my goals for the season are results – top 5s or win a TT – but now it will be more special with my first immediate goal being the opening weekend in Belgium,” he highlighted at the end of January, at the end of Team Qhubeka Assos’ pre-season camp in Spain. “I’ve never done those races and as I almost live on the parcours it will be special for me.”
Since then, Campenaerts has encouraged his fans to join him on a journey with video updates from his “Classics prep”. With his girlfriend, his friends and his father, you go behind the scenes, inside the Belgian star’s house and with him out on the road.
What to eat? How to build core strength and endurance at home? How to study the routes on the internet and on the ground? Here are Campenaerts’ answers as he takes you to Antwerp and some of the most famous Flemish bergs.
As a newcomer, Campenaerts wanted to “feel good” during the Belgian opening weekend. “I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot,” he rejoiced after finishing 48th in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite and 67th in Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. “I did not know these races are so cool.”
He even found the opportunity to “show what [he] was made of in Le Samyn.”
The roads of Le Samyn had already welcomed Campenaerts once, in 2018, and the young Belgian, riding for Lotto Soudal at the time, finished 43rd, three minutes behind the winner Niki Terpstra.
Three years later, Campenaerts had a major impact on the race. After countless attacks through the day, he was still trying to get the edge on the sprinters inside the last kilometre, before finishing 16th in the same group as the winner Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix). As Campenaerts puts it: “True racing!”
No Olympic Games? “Remco and Wout deserve to be called”
At Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the UCI ProSeries events Scheldeprijs and De Brabantse Pijl, plus perhaps a few other races to be added, Campenaerts still has a handful of opportunities to show his worth in this Classics campaign, before he turns his attention to the Giro d’Italia and his possible first participation in the Tour de France.
He’s also first on the reserve list to represent Belgium in the individual time trial ITT) of the Tokyo Olympic Games, as the National coach Sven Vanthourenhout has appointed Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert to fly the black, yellow and red colours in Japan.
“Putting the time trial on the map for Belgium doesn’t mean I deserve to be called,” Campenaerts told Sporza. “Remco and Wout deserve to be called, they’re faster than me. And I believe the best athletes need to go to the biggest events.”
In the meantime, the two-time ITT European Champion is now set on a new mission: to show everyone he has what it takes to be a major contender in the Classics.