Naples seafront, May 2009 and in a few days QuickStep’s Kevin Seeldraeyers will be crowned best young rider in the Giro d’Italia.
Dave Chapman and I chat to the slim, slight young man from the magnificently named Flemish town of Boom, his English is perfect and he’s on the way up.
With 13th on GC in the Giro as well as best young rider, add that result to 11th and best young rider in the Tour of California, 7th and best young rider in Paris Nice and 4th in the Tour of Austria and we could be forgiven for thinking that the young Belgian was headed for the very top.
But as the film title suggests, 2009 was; ‘As Good as it Gets.’
Seeldraeyers followed a classic route to the pro ranks; a stage win and second on GC in the tough Ronde de l’Isard in 2005 and then a sparkling 2006 season.
There was the overall in the Tour de Liege, second on GC in the Tour of the Pyrenees and a stage win in the race where a good performance virtually guarantees you a pro ride – the Valle d’Aosta stage race in Italy.
He signed with QuickStep for 2007, a dream for any young Belgian and was quick to produce promising results; top 20 on GC in the Tours of Austria and Catalonia added to 5th on GC in the Tour of Georgia all boded well.
In 2008 he rode his first Giro and was in the top 20 on GC in the Tours of California and Germany.
Then came the year which promised so much, prior to a lack lustre 2010; albeit there was a ride in the world’s biggest bike race – le Tour.
The following season, 2009, he was top 10 in Catalonia, top 20 in the Tour of Poland and rode the Giro and Vuelta.
After five seasons with Patrick Lefevre’s regime for 2011 he made the move – an unusual one for a Belgian – to Astana.
Last season saw rides in the Giro and Vuelta but no results to speak of; but the still only 26 year-old has high hopes for season 2013, we spoke to him in advance of his solid top 20 finish in the 2013 Ruta del Sol.
It’s a big jump from QuickStep to Astana; did the Belgian Media have much to say about the move, Kevin?
“Not so much, my last two years at QuickStep were not so good, I moved to Astana to make a fresh start.
“My first two years at QuickStep there wasn’t a lot of expectation upon me but then I had that great year in 2009; the next season wasn’t so good and whilst 2011 wasn’t so bad, I decided to move on.
“The Belgian Media are most interested in what’s happening in QuickStep and Lotto – and maybe BMC, Astana not so much.”
QuickStep to Astana, that’s a huge cultural leap.
“The main difficulty is that the team languages are Russian and Italian; but there’s a little English spoken too.
“The first year it was mostly Italian spoken and whilst I learned the language, I didn’t learn enough and there were situations where I couldn’t understand what was being said.”
Paris-Nice, Trentino, Romandie, the Giro and Vuelta – 2012 was a heavy season.
“It was a long season but whilst I was tired towards the end, I wasn’t wasted and would have been happy to ride the late season Italian programme.
“But I’ve had my longest ever rest over the winter – five weeks – and I hope to feel the benefit of that.
“My build up has been very slow and steady.”
You’ve ridden all of the Grand Tours, which do you like best?
“I like the Giro best but I like the Vuelta too, the weather is always good.
“The Tour is the one I like least, it’s so nervous and there are always crashes – it’s not a good feeling going into a race knowing that you’re going to crash!”
What’s your favourite parcours?
“A tough stage with three or four big climbs, that’s if I can get freedom – this year we have Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang on the team so I’ll be in their service a lot of the time.”
You were 7th at Covadonga in the Vuelta – that’s a tough one.
“I was good that day, but not good enough.
“The parcours of the Vuelta is maybe a little too severe; that last part of the Bola del Mundo is just too hard.
“I think that they have to be careful because all those mountain top finishes can become boring.”
Do you still live in Belgium?
“I still stay in the same town where I was born – Boom, in Flanders.
“My wife was born there and my parents still live there, too.
“I love it and if the weather gets too bad I organise a training camp somewhere warm and fly out to get the sun.
“Jens Keukeleire lives close by and we train there together – until the weather gets too bad . . .”
What’s Vino like?
“He’s always trying to improve things – trying new things with the team.
“He still trains with us, sometimes – and spends a lot of time with the riders.”
Were you in Astana for the team launch?
“Yes, what I saw of it was beautiful and impressive but I didn’t really see that much of it – it was 40 degrees below zero!”
How’s the US rider, Evan Huffman coming along with the team?
“He’s doing good; we got a chance to know each other at our training camp in Sardinia – there was no internet so it was better for people speaking to each other.”
What’s your take on the drug scandals?
“Big shit for cycling, that’s for sure – but most of it was before my time . . .”
What’s the goal for 2013?
“To win my first pro race – the same as every year!
“It’s a difficult sport to be in – you work hard for your team and do a good job.
“But that doesn’t win you any UCI points…”
In our interview, Kevin noted Paris-Nice as one of his big goals for the year. Unfortunately, Cyclingnews recorded after Stage One that;
‘Seeldraeyers crashed during the stage but was able to finish in an eight-man group 8:23 off the pace. Following treatment for his injuries, however, the 26-year-old Belgian has withdrawn from the race and faces eight days off the bike for recovery.’
“I crashed hard and got a cut below my left knee that is very deep and needs stitches. I can move the knee and bend it, but if I move and bend it a lot the stitches can come out, and then I have to go back to the doctor.
“I’m off the bike for eight days until it can heal enough to pedal.”
‘The loss of Seeldraeyers is a blow for his Astana team’s overall ambitions as they’ve lost a key domestique for leader Jakob Fuglsang in the mountain stages to come.’
VeloVeritas wishes Kevin a full and speedy recovery.