Tour de France unsung heroes: Jonas Rickaert – school prankster, lead-out man to the stars

Jonas Rickaert works hard in the peloton for Mathieu van der Poel and Tim Merlier, but he used to be a bit of a prankster as a teenager.

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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Throughout the Tour de France, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.

Jonas Rickaert was a bit of a prankster as a teenager.

The Belgian, who rides for Alpecin-Fenix and is making his Tour de France debut with the team this year, enjoyed having a bit of fun with his teachers when he was at school.

Anything to avoid doing a lesson.

“I wasn’t like a really good student, I liked to play sometimes. And let’s say we were doing some pranks with the teachers and okay, so it was a good time, but maybe it could be better,” Rickaert told VeloNews with a laugh.

Also read: Mathieu van der Poel, Alpecin-Fenix: From the fringe of the WorldTour to the top of the Tour de France

“I don’t know if it’s a good prank but we once we did something with the teacher. We put all his stuff away and he couldn’t give us the lessons. At that point, it was funny, but afterward, he was really angry, and we had to go to the headteacher. But yeah, that’s some stupid thing. We still laugh about it.”

Rickaert still likes to play the odd prank now, but he’s a bit better behaved as a professional cyclist. He may not have got everything he wanted from school, but he developed a friendship that is still going strong now.

The 27-year-old went to school with Tim Merlier, who was a couple of years ahead of him. While they weren’t in the same class, the pair bonded over their mutual love of cycling and haven’t looked back – despite rooming together at races for the last three years.

Also read: Tour de France unsung heroes: Jacopo Guarnieri balancing single parenthood with racing

“I’m always rooming with Tim Merlier, I think three years now. Okay, if we are together at the race, I always room with him. So, but we know already for a long time since we were at school, so yeah. He’s actually a good roomie,” he said.

“We were cyclists at school actually. When you are at the school then you say to maybe a friend like yeah, he’s also a cyclist. And then at some point, you come together, and you talk to each other and then you train together. Now we have been on the same team since Corendon, I think it’s now the third year, and it’s still going well, we are still friends.”

Road success and switching from the track

Rickaert is no longer rooming with Merlier at this year’s Tour de France after the sprinter, who won on stage 3, left the race in an attritional stage 9. Prior to Merlier’s departure, Rickaert had played a key role in his lead-out.

Rickaert never expected his friend to be performing at such a high level – with two grand tour sprint stage wins so far this year – but he’s enjoying it and working with someone that you’ve known for so long is fun.

Also read: Tour de France unsung heroes: Hugo Houle wants to win a stage in memory of his brother

“When we were if we were younger, we never thought that he was so fast, like taking a win at the Giro. But yeah, he did. And he’s still improving himself and surprising himself in that kind of races,” Rickaert said.

“You understand let’s say each other without words I think if I looked at him I know how he’s feeling and the same for me. That’s maybe the plus point or you know each other so well and without any words, you can understand.”

Rickaert has also been instrumental in setting up Mathieu van der Poel, who left the Tour de France on Sunday after taking a stage win and wearing the yellow jersey for six days. Despite being a ProTeam, the pressure of expectation is always high for Alpecin-Fenix but van der Poel and Merlier are easy-going leaders.

“They never complain about something or if it goes wrong, it goes wrong. And then they try another day or like they’re actually really kind and thankful for everything you do,” said Rickaert. “I think that’s the most important than a team that can be honest to each other. But yeah, I’d say we never fight and after a race, you can talk about it.”

Also read: Tour de France unsung heroes: Lukas Pöstlberger – big beats, pizza in the grupetto

Rickaert has been racing on the road since 2014 but his early years in the discipline were split with track racing. He was a very promising talent on the boards as a junior and went on to win national titles in the team and individual pursuit.

However, he made the decision to leave the track behind as he saw a more fruitful future on the road.

“I love the track a lot. At some point, you have to make choices, or you go on the road, or you keep going on the track,” he said. “I think there is more future on the road than on the track. So that’s why I love the track for what it is, and it was a good time, and I did it for maybe seven years. Now I found myself in a good job on the road, and I want to do it as good as possible.”

His progression on the road has led him to the Tour de France. His inspiration to turn himself from track star to grand tour rider came from, track rider turned Tour champion, Bradley Wiggins.

“As a kid, you always look forward to the Tour de France. And you look up to the riders who ride there. ’m happy to be here and that I can say that I have done at least one Tour de France in my life,” Rickaert said.

“I think the most or the thing I remember the most is like the victory of Bradley Wiggins. Because he was like me a track cyclist. And then he transformed himself a bit then to grand tour rider. That’s the nicest thing I remember from the Tour de France. I’m never going to be a GC rider, but it motivates me to do a good job on the road.”

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.