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Harm Vanhoucke: Dreaming of Il Lombardia and Grand Tours

He might be hailing from Belgium, the heart of cycling and a country renowned for the plethora of Classics riders it launched onto the big scene, but Harm Vanhoucke’s future lies in the mountains, where he is keen on making a name for himself in the seasons to come. And why not? At just 20 years of age, Harm is already one of the most promising and fascinating young riders on the international scene, with five victories to his name in the U23 ranks, in one-day races and stage races alike.

Flèche Ardennaise, Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, Tour de Savoie or Tour de Alsace, you name it, Harm Vanhoucke has put to display his remarkable climbing skills every time he had the opportunity and caught the eye of the pro teams, with several rumoured to have shown an interest in signing him. If this will happen this summer and he will become a pro next season, only time will tell.

Until then, the talented Belgian is focused on making the most out of the remainder of the season and enhancing his palmares. More about this and his results so far, in the following interview Harm Vanhoucke gave to Cafe Roubaix earlier this month.

– Harm, how did you come to cycling?

It was thanks to my dad. He never pushed me, but he too was a rider in his youth, so I think I got this from him, although at first I played football; but after while I got bored with it and moved to cycling.

– Was there a rider you admired back then?

I’ve always been a big fan of Andy Schleck. The way he raced and attacked in the mountains really made a big impression on me. Unfortunately, he had to quit cycling a few years ago, much earlier than it should have been the case, due to an injury, and that was a pity.

– How were your first years in the sport?

My first season wasn’t so great, in my first races I got dropped almost every time, but I kept believing, training hard and going deeper into the season I became better and better. Halfway through the season, I could be up there until the very end and that felt like a personal victory. Then, in my second year, which was also my first season in the junior ranks, I managed to get a win and on the climbs I noticed I could stay with the best guys. From that point on, things only got better and better. At that moment, I began thinking and hoping one day I will become a pro rider.

– Your first big win came last year, when you won the stage to Les Déserts at the Tour de Pays de Savoie. How was that day?

It was very difficult, as we rode at an incredible high pace the entire time. At the end, I think I was the freshest guy of the field and could ride away from everyone else to my first win. It was also my birthday, so I got a very nice birthday gift, one which I will never forget.

– Then, in your final race of the season, you rode to a solo victory in the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia.

After the Tour de l’Avenir, I talked with my trainer and told him that I want to arrive in good shape at the start of Lombardia. I trained hard prior to the event, so I hit top condition for the race, and to emerge victorious was just amazing. Everything was made even more special by the fact I was the first Belgian to win it and I’m really proud of this achievement.

– This year, another spectacular series of victories and strong results followed.

Indeed. I took the win in Flèche Ardennaise, which was my first victory of the year; it made me happy to come on top of another very big one-day race. Then, the Vuelta a Navarra followed, and it was another important milestone, as it was my maiden GC success. The team did a great job there and I’m very thankful to the boys for their help!

– And then came Tour de Savoie.

Which is a big and beautiful race. I was in really good shape and the result in the GC and in the uphill time trial left me satisfied, but on the other hand I didn’t get a win like last year, and that was a disappointment. I came close to victory twice, once in the TT, where only Bernal was faster, and then on the final day, to Moûtiers, where I was alone with 300 meters to go, when Perichon came past me like a rocket. Once again, I celebrated my birthday in the race, and although Savoie scheduled two hard stages on that day, the birthday wishes I got from everybody made my day a lot better.

– What are your goals for the second part of the year?

I will now race Giro della Valle d’Aosta, where I would like to win a stage, but my big objectives are the Tour de l’Avenir and Lombardia, which I’d love to win for the second time.

– I know it’s still a long way to go, but what races would you like to win as a pro?

Not only that I first have to make this step, but I also have a to improve a lot, in the time trial and even on the climbs. But if I were to name a few, then Il Lombardia, stages in the Critérium du Dauphiné and in the Grand Tours are on my bucket list. Would be great to say one day that I’ve won Il Lombardia both as an U23 and pro rider.

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