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Ruben Zepuntke: “The Classics are my Everest”

When he was a kid, Ruben Zepuntke used to play field hockey, but fortunately he didn’t stay there too much, as he discovered cycling, a sport where he immediately started to clock up some strong results. Combining track and road cycling, the young German from Dusseldorf caught the eye of many with his win at the Junior National Championships, back in 2011. This was enough for Rabobank Development to offer him a contract, which turned out to be an inspired move, as he got some top 10 results in both stage races and Classics.

After Rabobank decided to focus on Dutch riders, Ruben Zepuntke switched not only teams, but also continents, riding for the US-based Bissell Development. Thanks to Axel Merckx’s programme, he made some impressive improvements, which ultimately lead to him winning stage 1 of the Tour of Alberta, where he also finished 3rd in the GC, best result of a rider from a Continental team. Now, the 21-year-old is preparing for the U23 Road Race of the World Championships in Ponferrada, but before going there, he made some time for an interview.

– Ruben, how important were the team and Axel Merckx for your development?

I think that I’ve learned more about myself in the last year. The first part of season wasn’t that good, it wasn’t how I expected to be. I’ve had bad luck and was sick in the first months of the year. I felt that I wasn’t where I actually wanted to be. I was never concerned of the races and training, so I sticked to my training programme until the German Nationals. After a bad ITT and road race, I actually thought that this will be one of my worst season I’ve ever had. Then, after a taking a week off, I went to the US. In that week I discussed with Axel and my coach at home about my training, because I needed a change, otherwise I wouldn’t have progressed anymore. So I changed my training completely. More breaks and recovery time and shorter training rides, this was my programme for the next weeks. To do that step was one of my biggest improvements of the year.

– What are the differences between Bissell and your former team, Rabobank Development?

That’s hard to say. Both teams are the best development teams on the planet. So everything is just perfect for us young riders, especially the equipment, which is on the same level of the pros. We have the best equipment and programme you can wish for. I’ve had two great years with Rabobank. I think this team is very well organised and has a very good race calendar for a development team. You do have everything with this team, from sport scientists to a bus driver, it’s like a pro team. But on the other hand, the Dutch guys were too strict for me, so I didn’t feel fine. There was a big gap between riders and staff, I felt isolated as a rider. After my kicked out at the end of the 2013 season, because I wasn’t Dutch, I had the chance to go to Axel’s programme. This was a big step for me, but after the first hours I’ve felt like home in this team. There are no gaps between riders and staff. Also, the programme of Bissell is very international, so I’ve met riders from other countries. This mix was perfect for our team’s mood and inspiration. I’ve really enjoyed this year. This was also the key to success for me, to enjoy every race.

– What meant for you to take that stage win in Alberta, ahead of many World Tour riders?

I still can’t believe that I’ve won. On that day I just felt perfect. I already had a good feeling in Colorado, Utah, and the Cascade Classics. The parcours of the Tour of Alberta suited me, so I looked forward to the race, and to win against these riders made me very proud.

– The results you’ve got there made up for not being selected in Germany’s team for the Tour de l’Avenir?

After what happened in Canada, I think it was better to do the Tour of Alberta. I think the pro teams are more interested in you when you can win against pro riders or when you try to attack them.

– Next stop for you is Ponferrada. What do you think of the course and what goals do you have?

I’ve checked it out and I can say it’is very hilly and selective. To finish in the top ten would be awesome. I’m very focused on this race.

– What plans do you have for next season?

If I’ll get the chance to become pro, I’ll take it. In the future, I think I could become a good all-rounder, so I hope I can improve that in the next few years: to be good on the climbs, in the sprints and the ITT. I wish to do both the Classics and the stage races. I just have to see how the things will be going in the next seasons. But the Classics are challenging me the most. These races are my Mount Everest.

– And what dreams do you have as a pro?

The Tour de France is the highest goal on my list. To ride just once over the Champs-Élysées would feel like a personal win.

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