Alpecin-Deceuninck in Strade Bianche without a major leader: "We don't have a counterpart for Pogacar or Pidcock" Cycling

Alpecin-Deceuninck in Strade Bianche without a major leader: "We don't have a counterpart for Pogacar or Pidcock"

Alpecin-Deceuninck in Strade Bianche without a major leader: "We don't have a counterpart for Pogacar or Pidcock"

Oscar Riesebeek is embarking on his fifth season with Alpecin-Deceuninck. The Belgian team continuously selects and evolves to improve, and Riesebeek is clearly well-regarded by the Roodhooft brothers. In the run-up to Strade Bianche, spoke with the 31-year-old Dutchman, who at Alpecin-Deceuninck turns out to be much more than just a strong cyclist who assists others.

How was your winter?

"I had a very good winter, with a lot of training in Spain. Everything went smoothly. In February, we went to a high-altitude training camp in Denia, and then I started in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad."

You finished 131st in the Omloop, but that probably doesn't tell the whole story. How did your legs feel?

"The first race is always a bit of feeling it out. Overall I felt good, but the race opened up quite early. If you're not right there at the right time… Fortunately, we had three guys at the front with the team, and I was behind a crash myself. That happens, but I feel good and expect my form to improve over the next few weeks. It was a solid start."

What does your schedule look like moving forward? On Procyclingstats, I only saw Strade Bianche…

"No, that's top secret. Haha, no, just kidding! I’m set to ride Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, GP Denain, and the E3 Saxo Classic for now. In the Ardennes, I’m slated to ride the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. However, schedules can change quickly due to illness or injury. But that’s the plan, a great schedule. Slightly different from last year, when I didn’t do the Ardennes classics. That may also have to do with the program of the leaders..."

In Strade Bianche, you’re starting without a team leader, if I may say so. How are you approaching this race?

"We have quite a few opportunists in the team, with Quinten Hermans, Gianni Vermeersch, and Michael Gogl, who has previously achieved a top-ten finish here. They are our main three frontrunners, although that needs to be put into perspective. We don't have someone on par with Pogacar, Pidcock, or Mohoric, and that's okay. You have to stay realistic; we're not starting with the favorite, and a podium would be ambitious."

You extended your contract last October for two more years. The team is delighted with you. Can you explain a bit more about your role now and possibly for the next two seasons?

"We're both very happy with it. I didn’t have my best season in 2023, struggling a bit with my health. It didn’t turn out as we had hoped, although I was able to make a significant contribution at the World Championships. In the Giro too, for Kaden Groves, until I had to drop out due to illness. I’m quite versatile and used to position riders, not as a lead-out, but to keep the guys in front and assist Mathieu in the classics or championships when needed. A supportive role, which I hope to perform well again. Going for my own chances will mainly be in a Grand Tour, but primarily I have a supporting role."

You mentioned Mathieu already. You trained with him this winter, and almost every Instagram post of yours has a funny comment from him. Can you explain your relationship with him?

"I think I’ve been going to the Calpe area for about ten years; I always enjoy it there. In my second year with the team (2021, ed.), I told Mathieu he could come to Spain with me since we always ride the classics together. 'Come train and see what you think.' He did, and he absolutely loved it. Mathieu immediately bought a house there because he liked it so much, and I also have a regular place to stay in winter. That way, you get in touch with each other outside the season, and now we train a lot together. Cycling is a very serious sport, where you have to do and sacrifice a lot, but doing long training rides together always makes it easier. It's always super fun, often we just talk about silly things. Just shooting the breeze, but the hours fly by when you can train together in the sun."

So, you were essentially the key to Mathieu now preferring Spain over the Netherlands or Belgium?

"Yes, well, he ultimately had to make that choice himself, but he was used to training elsewhere, and I invited him. I'm glad he enjoyed it and that we now train a lot together. He really likes it there. I am convinced that having a good time in the team during training and on the road is important for success, besides working hard."

Did you talk to him over the winter about his new program, in which he really only rides the very biggest races?

"We did talk about it, but Mathieu is smart enough not to look too far ahead. Cycling is a serious sport, but anything can happen, positive or negative. He makes the decisions. Sometimes we talk about the Olympics, but he's very sensible and makes no secret of what he wants to do. He'll see how it goes."

Do you owe your selection for the 2023 World Championships to him?

"Mathieu certainly had a part in that, just like Wout van Aert and Nathan Van Hooydonck. But the national coach (Koos Moerenhout, ed.) also knows very well what I can contribute; I’ve always been able to play my part. If I’m in good shape, I can fulfill my role well."

You mentioned generally that you position and support team leaders, but can you explain a bit more about where your strength lies in this specific role? Why are you often chosen for races where Van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen are competing?

"I think I can stay relatively calm, especially when the situations gets nervous. Luckily, we have leaders like Jasper and Mathieu, who don’t easily get flustered. So, I might have to close a gap if they’re too far back and the pace picks up at the front. Besides, I need to keep them out of the wind, which isn’t very hard work. It's about bringing those guys as fresh as possible to the finale so they can start it in the best condition."

Final question: when is your season a success, looking at you as an individual?

"Last year wasn’t great, but if I can match my level from 2021 and 2022 with a strong spring, doing my job well deep into the finale… Of course, it would be great to aim for a stage win in a Grand Tour, but that’s not the primary goal."

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