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Road Racing

Arnaud De Lie is the new Belgian kid on the block (or bull on the ranch, if you will)

In the shadow of Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel there’s a third Belgian cycling gem being unearthed.

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In the shadow of Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel there’s a third Belgian cycling gem being unearthed, named Arnaud De Lie. His last name quite coincidentally sounds like the last part of temperamentally and brutally. His nickname: taureau Wallon, the Walloon bull.

De Lie hails from Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, just like former world champion Philipe Gilbert. His racing qualities are different though, reminding more about a young Peter Sagan. Since last year it was obvious that this powerhouse was a top-class bunch sprinter, nearly solely saving the fledgling Lotto-Soudal team from World Tour relegation.

His great early season form tempted his Belgian team — now called Lotto-Dstny — into lining up their bull at the Belgian opener of the season, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. De Lie did not disappoint in this mini-version of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Also read: Attack on Muur leads to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad win for Lotte Kopecky

When Jumbo-Visma made their surprise move when riding into the crosswinds after tackling the cobbles of the Lange Munte after only 90km of racing, creating a lead group of 20 with six Jumbo-Visma rider there was one Lotto-Dstny rider up front too: Arnaud De Lie. His team didn’t have to work to bring this group back. Much later, just before the final got going, De Lie slipped away and crashed. He needed a new bike and hurt his knee.

“It was super nervous, like it always is, and we went a bit wide there. It went fast. It was a bit painful but I was ok,” De Lie said, laughing about the incident but at that moment of the race he was in trouble. Ten kilometers later the often decisive cobbled Molenberg climb would split the peloton to pieces. Game over for De Lie, because it would be hard to bridge back up and move up in the peloton on these narrow roads. Who showed up behind the yellow Jumbo-Visma top gun Christophe Laporte: Arnaud De Lie.

“I kept my cool. If you stay cool that helps a lot. It’s not only about being strong with the legs but also with the head. I stayed super calm. I made good use of my teammates Frederik Frison and Brent Van Moer. They helped me after the crash to move back up and at the foot of the Molenberg I was back in tenth place: perfect. I knew I was enjoying a great day,” De Lie said, very vividly, in the mixed zone.

Ok, ok, De Lie didn’t react when eventual winner Dylan van Baarle powered away at 38km from the finish in Ninove but that was because teammate Florian Vermeersch moved along with that move. Vermeersch was runner-up at the 2021 Paris-Roubaix but 10 kilometers later he blew up his engine in trying to follow Van Baarle.

De Lie was back into the game as the reduced peloton was storming towards the Muur, the famous cobbled ‘wall’ that used to feature late in the finale of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Tim Wellens (UAE) and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain) blasted away from the peloton but one rider made a counter-attack and climbed the Muur brutally on the big ring, marked by Laporte who was spinning around on a much smaller gear: De Lie.

“I was well positioned when approaching the Muur. I had amazing legs. Sometimes you have those days where you push the pedals and it’s, well, it’s just easy. I was riding in 5-6th position with Wellens and Mohoric a bit further up the road. I started thinking that it was about time to go and I went. I was super strong, really,” De Lie laughed.

“This is a climb with a lot of history. I remember seeing Tom Boonen and [Fabian] Cancellara here. Three years ago I was still watching the race go over the Muur on television and now I was one of the guys riding there so I felt obliged to go flat out. It was really impressive to ride there. This was extraordinary,” De Lie said, glancing back.

The four chasers narrowly failed to close down the gap on Van Baarle. The peloton caught the group back in the final hectometers of the finishing straight in Ninove. Usually, it’s useless for riders to fight back against the speed of the peloton in those final moments but De Lie bounced back and snatched away second place. “For a brief moment, I was no longer riding in second place but then I hit the pedals even harder. I was obliged to do so,” De Lie said.

Also read: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Classics late bloomer Dylan Van Baarle kicks off spring campaign with impressive win

“Straight away runner-up in the Omloop isn’t too bad for a 20-year-old, no,” De Lie asked the awaiting press with a huge smile on his face. “I’m not disappointed. I came close but still I was very far away from victory. Van Baarle was out of reach. I did get my first WorldTour podium. There’ll be more chances in the future. I have 15 years ahead of me,” De Lie said.

His future in the spring classics seems bright. Winner Van Baarle heralded the young Belgian rider. “He’s a super big talent. If you’re capable of moving along with the best on the Muur and Bosberg then you have a big future.”

His knee might be a problem in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday but De Lie waves that issue away. “It’s the same knee that got hurt at my crashes in the 4-days of Dunkerque and Paris-Tours but it’s nothing serious. I hope to pass a good night and with a good massage we’ll fight for the victory. That’s the goal,” De Lie said.

Before heading back to the team bus he concluded with a statistic that is often used when a good rider doesn’t win the Omloop. “They say that the rider who doesn’t win the Omloop often goes on to win the Ronde… but I’m not riding the Ronde,” De Lie joked.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.