AVELLINO, Italy (VN) — Bart de Clercq, winner of Friday’s stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia, only began riding seriously in 2008. The 25 year old Belgian rode his bike for fun as a student at the University of Ghent, making the decision to give racing a try only near the end of his studies. Three years later, he’s in his first season as a pro and is already a grand tour stage winner.
De Clercq started his athletic career as a track and field athlete at the age of 15, but was plagued by injuries and had to give up the sport at 18. He then took four years away from athletics of any kind to focus on his studies.
“Even during my period of study I rode a bike, but as a tourist. Just two or three times a week as a fun ride,” he said after Friday’s stage. “It was only when I stopped school that I tried to race. It was because I liked the bike, not for the purpose of becoming a pro; just because I had fun racing.”
By the end of 2008 it was obvious he had talent, and he joined the development squad at Davitamon Lotto in 2009. He continued with the development squad in 2010, finishing the season with a number of top placings, and then signed his first World Tour contract for the 2011 season.
“The first year it’s always difficult to say what you want to achieve,” he said when asked about his goals at a post-race press conference. “The first year you need to get a lot of experience. You don’t know what your capacities are. It turns out I don’t have much difficulty to following these guys.”
Of course, it was those guys following him on stage 7, where he attacked a full 8km from the finish. After admitting to the press that he didn’t expect to stay away, he explained his decision to head off the front.
“It’s always the directions of the team that you have to try. The speed wasn’t very high I found, so I attacked. It turned out quite well. Riders should attack a little bit more, they sometimes look too much to each other. If you feel good, you always need to try to attack.”