In the first of a new series that will run through the off-season I’ll be taking a look at some of the potential future stars of cycling. Some are already racing at the top level and starting to make their mark, while others are poised to move up to the big leagues next season. One thing they all have in common is talent, and although that alone isn’t a guaranteed signifier of success, I think we’ll be hearing some of these names a lot in the future.
It’s been expected for a while, but the age-old team currently known as Belkin will continue next season as TEAMLottoNL. The Dutch squad have secured new sponsors in the form of the national lottery De Lotto and loyalty programme company BrandLoyalty.
What does this have to do with young cyclists? Well the first order of business for the team, according to Dutch newspaper Telegraaf, has been to secure the signature of promising Belgian youngster Tom Van Asbroeck from the ProContinental Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise team.
The 24 year-old is a cobbled specialist with a strong sprint, and he likes the hills too. Put these three qualities together and only one race springs to mind – the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Van Asbroeck rode the race for the second time in his career this season, finishing in 71st place.
He hails from the European cycling heartland of Flanders. The city of Aalst, situated halfway between Gent and Brussels, doesn’t have a massive cycling pedigree though. No major races visit and the biggest name to previously emerge from the town is ex-QuickStep rider Kevin Van Impe.
To rewind a few years, he rode as an amateur with the Van Der Vurst Development Team in 2011. Tom was consistent all season, rarely finishing outside the top ten. He only won one race, but it was a big one – the U23 version of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, where he outsprinted a small group at the finish.
After a single season with Van Der Vurst, he was signed up by current team Topsport Vlaanderen. It’s the same place where future teammate Sep Vanmarcke started his pro career, while others like Björn Leukemans, Leif Hoste, John Gadret and Thomas de Gendt all got their starts there.
In his first season with the team, Van Asbroeck won the 1.2 ranked races GP van der stad Geel and the Beverbeek Classic, both in reduced bunch sprints. He also had the opportunity to ride his first WorldTour races, finishing both Gent-Wevelgem and the Eneco Tour, while he grabbed tenth place at his first Belgian National Championships.
The highlight of Tom’s season though, was a bronze medal at the U23 race at the World Championships in Valkenburg. After a tough race he sprinted to third place behind Alexey Lutsenko and Bryan Coquard, who are now at Astana and Europcar respectively.
2013 saw more progression as he rode the full complement of Flanders Classics. The man from Aalst experienced the Ronde Van Vlaanderen for the first time, finishing (an achievement in itself) 79th. There were to be no wins, though he did show his sprint prowess with several podium finishes in stages of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen and the Tour de Wallonie.
Most of his August was spent in Norway, where he grabbed a couple of top ten placings on GC. He almost beat Thor Hushovd in a stage of the Arctic Tour, while in the Tour des Fjords he was never out of the top ten.
Onto this season, and it has been an incredibly successful one. As of the end of September, Tom leads the UCI Europe Tour after a very consistent past few months. Earlier in the season, he took the mountains jersey at the Vuelta a Andalucia before winning the hilly Cholet-Pays de Loire classic in March. A successful spring was rounded out by 6th and 7th place finishes at Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
In July he took another win, this time at the Tour de Wallonie, where he sprinted to victory in Waremme en route to a 4th place finish on GC. Since August Tom has been a podium regular in the slew of classics he has contested (see below), and should he keep this form up it looks like he’ll secure his place at the top of the Europe Tour.
With riders like Lars Boom and Lars Petter Nordhaug leaving Belkin at the end of this season, it looks like Tom will get good chances to prove himself further at the top level with TEAMLottoNL. The team are certainly investing in the future, as 2014 Paris-Roubaix Espoirs winner Mike Teunissen is also making the step up. They are certainly ones to keep an eye out for next spring, with the talented Sep Vanmarcke leading the way.