Perhaps many of you know his brother Tim that ride for Deceuninck- Quick Step, but within Declercq family there’s another guy that rides at the very high level: the younger one, Benjamin Declercq! He rides for the Belgian (Flemish) Professional Continental team Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise.
We have had a nice talk with Benjamin, but first let us introduce him a bit…
Benjamin Declercq was born on February 4, 1994 in Kortrijk, a town in West-Flanders, the western province of Flanders, the hearth of cycling. He still lives in West-Flanders, in Izegem. He is 1,82 m for 67 kg. But maybe it’s better to let him tell more himself…
Lasterketa Burua: For the ones who don’t know you so well, let’s start with an introduction: what kind of rider are you?
Benjamin Declercq: I’m mainly a classic rider. I like the typical short cobbled climbs. Also uphill finishes are my kind of thing, but only if the climb it’s not too long. When we have a designated sprinter in the team, then I’m also part of the lead-out train.
LB: How did you come to cycling? How old were you when you started riding your bike?
BD: We always had a lot of passion for cycling within the family, we followed all the races intensively. My brother Tim is a little bit older than me [Tim is going for 30 this year, ed] and then when he started racing I always went watching him. Eventually I quit football at 12 and got my own racing bike, a third-hand bike, and was ready to race.
Declercq began his cycling path with DJ-Matic Kortrijk, a local cycling club. Then he rode all his U23-years with the current EFC L&R Vulsteke, a team where many pro riders passed their youth days, among the others the current Belgian Champion Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal and Floris De Tier.
LB: When did you take it a a serious thing, really thinking about a possible career in pro cycling? Was there a specific moment or race where you thought “Yes, I will be a professional rider” ?
BD: Throughout the years in the youth categories, cycling remained just a hobby for me. The stress was always more on the study. An important moment is when you finish your high school studies. Most riders face the crossroad: either focus on cycling, or going to college/start working. For me it was the latter, I went on to study Applied Economics, but I never quit cycling or even thought about it. In my second years as U23-rider (de beloften, as the category is called in Flemish) I made a lot of progress and was able to match some of the best youth riders. The I began to realise that it was perhaps possible to become a professional rider so I started dedicating more time to my hobby.
In 2010, Benjamin won the Provincial West-Vlaanderen Championship for juniores. Then after two other years where he obtained some interesting results, he passed to U23 category. There he won some races in Belgium and France in addition to various important placings, attracting the attention of Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, eventually offering him a contract.
LB: How do you judge your U23 years? What did you feel when Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise offered you the chance to become a professional rider?
BD: I had my ups and downs as every rider I guess. The combination with the studies was not easy: when I had exams, there was little time to train. So when the season started I was nowhere near the desired form, but after a couple of weeks I was able to be competitive again. I had rather become pro a little bit earlier, but when they eventually gave me a contract I was still thrilled.
LB: Every cycling fan grows up with a cyclist he looks up to, who was (or still is) your cycling hero?
BD: When I was little I was a big fan of Sven Nys, the CX-rider. When you end up riding beside your hero, it makes you really proud, but the way you look at him changes completely.
LB: Looking at the results, after a difficult first year (even with some injuries) you rode a really solid season in 2018. Could you take stock of yout first two years in élite cycling?
BD: In my first year there were no expectations and I got the chance to discover the races and find my own way. It appeared to be a total game changer. After a couple of months howhever I could do more than just following and rode some solid races for a neo-pro. Then, unfortunately, there was that crash in a bunch sprint in the Tour de Luxembourg that I could not avoid. I landed on my knee and the rest of the year I had to handle the injury. I managed to ride some more races later that year, but after a certain period of time I had to stop again: surgery was unavoidable. 2018 brought a fresh start and after some time I could ride without worries again. The form was really good during the Flemish Classics but I could not turn it into a result because of bad luck in the decisive moments of the race. After that I took a break, I broke my thumb which was also a setback. From july on the physical discomforts were gone and I had a really solid summer reaching podium twice and multiple top-10s. I hope to still improve in 2019.
Indeed, after a fluctuating spring, in 2018 Declercq collected varius placements in UCI races, both one day-races and stages, and even a 3rd place in Grand Prix Cerami.
LB: How did your winter and your comeback to racing go? What are your expectations for this season?
BD: Apart from being sick two times this winter I can’t really complain, I could complete all the main training we set out to do. I hope to finally show a good form in the Flemish Classics without too much bad luck. I hope then to ride some finales. When the Classics are done, there are still a lot of beautiful races to come where I want to be at my best.
LB: How is the relationship with your brother Tim? Does he help or influence you?
BD: I have a really good relationship with my brother. Apart from being a rider, he also studies to become a coach so he gives me my training schedules. We always try to help each other with advice and train together when it fits our schedule.
LB: Every rider has special moments to remember and days to forget. Can you name your best and worst days you have had on the bike so far?
BD: This is a though question since you experience so much good and bad days as a cyclist. Perhaps the best day was in my first U23 year when I ws in the break at the Pro Kermesse of Gullegem alongside Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, Yves Lampaert, Andre Fenn… I suffered incredibly but I managed to end 9th (race eventually won by Andre Fenn, ed). It was awesome riding with these big names as a young rider. My worst day was instead at last year Ronde van Vlaanderen: I was still in the favourites group, which counted about 50 riders, at the Koppenberg. Somebody didn’t make it to the top and he had to get off his bike, making also the rest behind him to do so. When I wanted to get on my bike again, my chain was jammed between my frame and crank. It took more than five minutes to get it on again and my race was over.
LB: Many cyclists say to be paid to do the thing you love is a dream come true, but we all know there are ups and downs. Which are the best and the worst thing about being a pro cyclist?
BD: Definitely the best thing about being a pro cyclist is the freedom; you can just take your bike and ride wherever you want. You get to see some truly fantastic landscapes, famous landmarks and other cultures. Also the atmosphere round teams or races is extraordinary. But you are right when you say cycling is not all rainbows and butterflies. Even more, I think that if you dislike riding a bike, you will not be able to hold on a long time in the cycling community. People only see the bright side of cycling, they do not see the injuries, the suffering, the constant moving around (tsjoolen, as we call it in our dialect), the stress when going toward a crucial point in a race, the deception… But for me the pros still largely outweight the cons.
LB: Do you usually train alone or do you have an habitual training club?
BD: I do not have fixed training partners. When doing intervals I like to be on my own even. But for endurance riding I usually meet up with friends that live nearby. Our region is densely inhabitated with pro cyclist, so that’s not much of a problem.
Declercq achieved good results not only on the road, but even at school. Indeed he graduated in 2017 at KU Leuven obtaining even a nomination for the best combination of studies and sport at high level.
LB: You are a brilliant example of a pro rider who had success even on the educational field, how did you manage the union of studying and cycling?
BD: First of all I’d like to stress that young riders should be more aware of the fact that it is very hard to become a pro cyclist and evidently you need a certain amount of luck as well (to avoid the bad luck). So I found it regrettable when guys who definitely had the brains quit school and also didn’t end up becoming a pro cyclist as well. Then, the combination of studying and cycling is very hard, but it is possible. Planning is key. In certain periods you also need to set your priorities, or probably both will suffer. And the most important one is very obvious: you need to work hard on both fields to attain results. Also when either studying or cycling isn’t going very well, it is pleasant that you can still rely on the other.
LB: Maybe it is too early, but have you ever thought about life and opportunities after pro cycling career?
BD: I have thought about it actually and I’m not going to stay in the cycling world (at least provisionally). I found my studies very interesting and I’d still like to do something with it.
LB: What are your passions beside cycling? What do you like to when you are not riding your bike?
BD: When I’m not on the bike I mainly like to spend time with my friends, family or girlfriend. It’s good to take the head off certain matters. Besides that I have a lot of interests: I’m a fan of movies that require you pay attention, I listen a lot to music, I like other sports such as football, rally and boxing and occasionally I play videogames as well.
LB: In one day races, what is the feeling when you are dropped, furthermore it’s raining and/or is cold and there is still a long way to the finish? What push you to go up to the finish line without giving up?
BD: Usually when you are getting dropped you have already felt it on the legs, so it doesn’t come as a surprise. For me cycling means not giving up. It is always necessary to fight till the very end , because that’s what makes you stronger. It is very inspiring to come back stronger after a setback.
LB: Is there a race that you like the most or that suits best to your characteristics?
BD: I’m not 100% sure, I haven’t ridden yet all the Classics, so it’s difficult choosing one particularly.
LB: Sadly in recent years, some riders passed away or had to end their careers too soon due to hearth problems, above all in Belgium, your home country. Do you think there is a relation between this and the fact that the competition already in youngster categories is very high and it’s still growing?
BD: A close friend of mine has passed away and I found it very difficult to handle. Also other guys that I knew well are not there anymore. Cycling is a very dangerous sport and some accidents are (un)avoidable. Race organizers and the UCI should do the utmost to keep us as safe as possible. I don’t know what causes all the hearth failures. We have obligatory screening every year. It is time to research this, that is clear. I also started cycling at a young age and I doubt if that’s very bad. Perhaps it’s better if you are not pushed to the limit by your parents at such an age and just keep the extreme suffering to maximum once a week.
It has been a pleasure having Benjamin as guest (the very first one!) in our blog and we really want to wish him and all the Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise team the best for this season, especially for the imminent Spring Classics campaign that starts today with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad!