Thursday, June 26, 2014

BCS! BCS! Let's meet Louis Vervaeke

**This is a cross-post from a recent post I made on the cycling website PodiumCafe. I couldn't say enough good things about the website and it was the first place online that I joined that was cycling-only (for the most part...sort of) and it is a great community with many informed people. This post is about Louis Vervaeke and I refer to him as the BCS, or Belgian Climbing Sensation, which as I explain is an reoccurring meme to refer to Kevin Seeldraeyers, who got the moniker in 2009, but it can be used to refer to any standout Belgian climbing talent. I would recommend any of you that aren't on Podium Cafe to go take a look especially with the Tour de France coming up!**
There are tales of the BCS. The BCS was born in the flatlands, in the cold wind and lashing rain, but has the ability to climb with the smallest Italian and Iberian grimpeurs. The BCS is an enigma. A supernova. A bright flash riding up the side of a mountain before burning out, never reaching the inflated expectations that matched his rise. The BCS teases us. He will put on a brilliant ride that will make people salivate with his potential and then put in poor performances that would sober the town drunk. Why BCS, why? Why can't you ride with some consistency? Why hath you forsaken us BCS?
The BCS, for those of you that don't know, is the term on PdC for Belgian Climbing Sensation.Its origins date back to 2009 and Kevin Seeldraeyers performances in Paris-Nice, where he placed 7th overall, and Giro d'Italia, where he was 14th overall, where hewon the youth classification at both races. Expectations were high and then fell quite quickly when he wasn't able to produce anything of note for a while. He switched to Astana from Quick Step but was only able to go 3rd in the Tour of Austria. He now races for Wanty-Groupe Goubert.He was followed by Bart De Clercq, who won a stage in the '11 Giro and has yet to reach back to those heights. You could throw Thomas De Gendt into the mix but his climbing abilities depend on his motivation. Tim Wellens is also a contender for the moniker, especially after his strong Giro but he is a strong all-around rider as well.
Seeldraeyers certainly wasn't the first BCS. Kurt Van De Wouwer placed 11th in the 1999 Tour de France. He finished 17th the next year but he never again reached the heights of that first big Grand Tour GC placing. Van De Wouwer hung around until 2006 with and then in more recent years, he took over the Lotto-Belisol U23 program as a DS.He was instrumental in bringing up both BCS possibles De Clercq and Wellens as well as many others including Sean De Bie, Thomas De Gendt and others.There is another now. A climber that has proved to be both explosive on the climbs and isn't a leaf in the wind when riding in crosswinds. Is this potential BCS the one? Will he finally break the Belgian Grand Tour drought? Will be be the new Merckx? When will he succeed to the Belgian royal throne? Maybe I'm not helping with those expectations...
Louis Vervaeke wasn't a junior that blew riders out of the water. He was a national level rider that had some good rides as on the European circuit but to say that he was the next big thing? That would be a bit much. Out of the junior ranks, Vervaeke signed with Bofrost-Steria for his first U23 season while also going to school for sales management. He was rough around the edges but was comfortable in the hills as he was 6th on a stage in the Ronde de l'Isard and finished 15th overall in the ridiculously hilly Giro Ciclistico Valle d'Aosta, which was very good for a 1st year U23 even though he was nearly 30 minutes down on winner Fabio Aru. For 2013, Vervaeke come on board with Van Der Wouwer and Lotto-Belisol U23 and made waves the moment he hit the mountains. After being flat on the first stage of the Tour des Pays de Savoie, Vervaeke bounced back with 3 strong rides in a row on summit finishes where he finished 7th, 4th and 3rd, with the last one coming on the slopes of La Toussuire. He finished 4th overall and less than a month later, he would be back in the mountains in Valle d'Aosta. Vervaeke was one of the best climbers in the race and finished 4th overall behind 2 now-Cannondale pros Davide Villella and Davide Formolo as well as Bissell's Clement Chevrier.
The new BCS was rising. After the season last year, Vervaeke moved to an apartment in Tuscany with Lotto-Belisol riders Sean De Bie and Tim Wellens and Trek's Jasper Stuyven. Vervaeke was now surrounded by hills and had a strong training group to ride with as well and if needed, he could get to some serious climbs within a day's journey. There is even some photos of the group heading out with Cipo as an escort...on a ride where Cipo might have talked about escorts.

After a slow build-up this spring, Vervaeke was primed for some big rides in the mountains. In the Ronde de l'Isard, he was always near the front when the mountains really kicked up and he placed 3rd in the mountain top finish on the 1st stage behind Alexander Foliforov. The next stage was a pure display of power. On the mountain finish on Bagneres du Luchon, Vervaeke and teammate Tiesj Benoot nearly rode across a 3 minute gap in the final 6 kilometers and when Vervaeke stormed over the finish, he only finished 24 seconds behind stage winner Lilian Calmejane (Vendee U). Since overnight leader Foliforov exploded and lost nearly 5 minutes, Vervaeke played defense the rest of the week and he was able to win the overall by 1’22" over Maxime Le Lavandier (Chambery CF). Vervaeke became the first Belgian to win l’Isard since Yannick Eijssen (now BMC...also a BCS that had some failure to launch syndrome) in 2010 and his sights were set to his favorite race, the Tour des Pays de Savoie.
While l’Isard has mountains, Pays de Savoie is in another league. Just judging by the parcours, it is a harder race than many pro races. 5 stages with every one of them having an uphill finish; 3 mountain top finishes, an uphill sprint and a short time trial that…you guessed it…ended with an uphill finish. The race this year provided great drama as well. On the first stage on the mountain finish to Valmeinier, Vervaeke went too hard and went into the red too early on the final climb. When Dmitriy Ignatiev (Itera-Katusha) kept away, no one responded and the Russian, who just got off a mysterious 2 year vacation, was able to pull out big time. When Vervaeke rolled in, he finished 4th but was 1’19 down on the Russian. Hole dug. Now it was time to get that time back.
On stage 2, the race did two finishing loops on the Plateau d’Assy. Vervaeke attacked with Jesus Del Pino (Burgos-BH) and the duo broke the Russian Ignatiev, who was laboring on with Pierre-Roger Latour (Chambery CF) to limit his loses. Vervaeke and Del Pino worked well together and while Jordi Simon (ex-Andalucia now Team Ecuador aka Movistar South) won the stage, Vervaeke finished 2nd and more importantly got back 53 seconds. The next stage, Vervaeke attacked late with Simon and Maxime Vantomme and was able to steal a few more seconds while Simon won his 2nd stage in a row.
The Russian Ignatiev got his revenge by taking the afternoon TT but Vervaeke, who isn’t a total slouch against the clock, finished 2nd just 2 seconds behind. The table was set for a battle on the incredible Col des Glières. On a parcours that our own Willj described as better than any Tour de France stage in the last 40 years, the race went up both sides of the Col des Glières, which is hallowed ground when talking about the French Resistance during the 2nd World War. In the dead of winter in 1944, the French Resistance marquisards fought to protect the plateau against the Wehrmacht and their Vichy allies as it was the site of a British aid drop. 121 died in the process and it was technically a lose after no reinforcements arrived but it was a turning point for the Resistance to fight on. 

The stage itself came down to the 2nd ascent of les Glières up to the plateau, which sits at 1450 meters in altitude. Vervaeke needed to take back 28 seconds on the final stage to over Ignatiev on GC. Heading into the final 5 kilometers, it was a brawl. Digs going every which way. Ignatiev drew out just Vervaeke and Simon. Then with under 4km to go, Vervaeke drilled it and left the Russian scrambling. On the rivet, Vervaeke hit the line to take the stage win but it was left down to the clock to see if he did enough. Tick tick tick. When Ignatiev crossed the line, the clock read 29 seconds in arrears. With bonus seconds, Vervaeke secured the GC win by 5 seconds over Ignatiev. He became the first Belgian to win the race (only been going since 1999) and only the 2nd rider to win l’Isard and Pays de Savoie overall in the same year with the first being Guillaume Bonnafond in 2008.
There is a new BCS in town. Well…maybe. It still is just the U23 ranks and maybe this post is premature and Vervaeke crashes and burns out and has to take a straight job…okay I don’t believe that for a second. This BCS is special. He isn’t like the others. He has panache. He isn’t scared to let it fly. He can climb so damn fast to boot. 

So why am I going into depth about Vervaeke? Because, according to this Het Nieuwsblad article, Vervaeke is said to be going directly up to the Lotto-Belisol pro team and his DS Van De Wouwer wouldn't confirm or deny this. Vervaeke is off the roster for the U23 European Championships. Now this is also Het Nieuwsblad and they are usually full of shit half the time but it is a possibility as Tim Wellens did something similar in 2012 where he signed with Lotto-Belisol from July 1 and still got to ride the Tour de l'Avenir that year, where he finished 10th. Vervaeke's next major goal is the Tour de l'Avenir, which has a stellar parcours this year that is beefed up including 4 mountain-top finishes as well as a final day finish on La Toussuire. Perhaps Vervaeke can improve on his 3rd place from last time and take the win? We shall see. 

**And as I write this, Directvelo publishes a story that Vervaeke will be turning pro in July with Lotto-Belisol and if the paperwork goes through quick enough then he could ride the Tour of Austria. 

In the meantime, you should all welcome your new BCS overlord with open arms! 

Louis Vervaeke 
Team: Lotto-Belisol U23/Lotto-Belisol 
Born: October 6th, 1993 in Ronse. 
Lives: Lucca, Italy (Melden when in Belgium) 
Specialty: Big mountains and GC 
-Studied for a bachelors in business management with a focus in sales management 
-Started riding when he was 13 years old

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