Niels Bastiaens
Monday January 8, 2024 at 5:35 PM

Interview In extremis, Julien Vermote can join Visma | Lease a Bike add. The 34-year-old Vermote found no shelter at the end of 2022 and decided to ride fairground races for a year for his self-founded team. With his contract as a replacement for the retired Lennard Hofstede, the West Flemish is now rewarded for a year and a half of perseverance, and suddenly with the most successful team in the world. Bee CyclingFlits he tells his story.

How quickly did it all happen after Lennard Hofstede’s departure?
“The last few days suddenly very quickly. Me and my brother (manager Alphonse Vermote, ed.) have always continued to lobby. But most teams are especially crazy about young men. In that respect, it is necessary that you continue to put yourself in the spotlight and let people know that you are still there. I contacted Merijn Zeeman for the first time in October, but then I was told that there was no room. Until I received a phone call from Maarten Wynants in mid-December, who said that the situation had changed. Contacts with Merijn and Grischa Niermann were also resumed afterwards. But I definitely think it helped me that I had contacted them earlier.”

This is also the end of a search that has been going on since the end of 2022. How did you experience that period?
“I tried to make the best of it. First I looked for a team for as long as possible. When it became clear that it wasn’t going to work out, I changed my mindset a bit. I founded my own team, with the Belgian championship as a major goal. There I hoped to show that I was still present. Furthermore, it was mainly a lot of Christmas races. In every fair race there was, I was at the start to maintain my level. My thoughts were only focused on my ambition to become a professional again at the highest level. I only saw it as an interim solution. But of course it was a gamble.”

Do you still feel like a professional cyclist at those moments?
“Gosh, I only started racing again in May. At the Belgian Championships you feel like a professional cyclist, and things are going really fast in those Christmas races too. That’s 3.5 hours of racing with the throttle open. But I have also had to compete in elite races without a contract. That’s more difficult, you really have to turn the switch and not really think about it. To really feel like a professional, you want to participate in all those big competitions. But on the other hand, I have always continued to take care of myself like a professional.”

Vermote at the head of the peloton in 2022 – photo: Cor Vos

Some colleagues must have thought you were crazy.
“Maybe. But in my opinion I had no choice: it was the moment to make the most of it one more time. I really had the feeling that I couldn’t stop like that because I knew I was still at the same level. That was confirmed in those fair races. That good feeling was there and I really believed that something was coming, although at many times there was really nothing to cling to.”

How do you maintain your level without the professional guidance of a top team?
“That wasn’t too bad. I had a good trainer, Sander Cordeel, who trains riders at Lotto Dstny. And my brother also has a sports medicine center, Vitori. For example, there is a doctor there, Anneleen Geerts, who used to work at Alpecin-Deceuninck. So I had a good team of professional people around me who supported me. There was no problem physically. It is mentally quite a challenge to accept that you are racing at a lower level.”

What if Visma | Lease a Bike had not come?
“You can’t think about that. Then maybe it was over. I didn’t really want to continue with that one-man team. In theory that was possible. But then you also have to ask yourself what you are doing. You don’t have to remain a racing driver to continue cycling. There are plenty of other things you can do in life. And I also realized that I couldn’t keep it up that way. There were other conversations going on, but many things were also dropped. Sometimes because of a sponsor who dropped out last minute. One went through, and that was the best option of all. Incredible, unprecedented. Actually, I can’t say it any other way.”

You were in Patrick Lefevere’s team during the top days, you saw Alpecin-Deceuninck function as a top team around Mathieu van der Poel. Are you still impressed by what Visma | Lease a Bike?
“I have to say, and I don’t mean that in a bad way: I’m not easily impressed by anything anymore, but I am by this team. Of course I have only been really involved for a few days, but if you see how things are going. Everything is structured in such a way that you quickly understand why they are doing so well in the race. They win the three Grand Tours in one season, they perform numbers with the entire team collectively. You can’t ignore that. That’s not a coincidence or anything.”

What is the difference with, for example, your time at Lefevere?
“Quick-Step was also top then, in those years. But the course has evolved. It has become so much more professional that you can no longer compare the two. Things will now be very different for the Quick-Step team than ten years ago. But I still have the feeling that Visma | Lease a Bike takes the biggest step of the entire pack. They are forerunners and pioneers in the current era of the race. That is also an art. You will notice this when you enter the service course. But also how quickly they handled everything for me. I can leave for the internship with the team without any worries.”

Vermote is a barrel full of experience – photo: Cor Vos

Here and there it is said that you came at the intercession of Wout van Aert.
“It is mainly the team management that makes the decisions. I know Wout a little, but my brother better than me. they were on the team together (at Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace in 2014, ed.). But I think Wout knows my qualities and would have liked them before my arrival. I also believe that I can be of value to Wout, but actually to all leaders.”

You are praised for your experience in the team’s press release. How can you add value with this?
“I have competed in all the big races. I can lead, I can position well. If it is necessary to drop riders at the front at a certain point, they can count on me. I can also do something towards the sprint. Putting a train on the rails is no stranger to me. In that respect I am multifunctional. I’m not a climber, but I can climb a climb. Being employable in many areas was perhaps my greatest asset. Besides, the older you get, the more you can keep calm. That is also an important factor in the race.”

Are you still conditionally behind?
“I have continued to train consistently. In November I spent three weeks at Lake Como in Italy. I did stay home in December. I may have fallen behind on that, but that can be made up for quickly. In the beginning I will mainly ride in the lead in the races, but I expect everything will tell itself. I certainly feel ready to do my work. The first match would normally be the Clasica de Almeria.”

What does the difficult period of the past year say about your love for the sport?
“A lot. It is perhaps the most beautiful contract I have ever signed. Because you know that you really like to do it and with a lot of passion. Otherwise you won’t be riding fairground races for a whole year. I learned many valuable lessons. You enter the world as a 20-year-old guy, everything is normal because you have never known anything else. Now I saw the other side of the coin and realized that what we can do on the bike is really beautiful. I will definitely take that with me and it will make me stronger as a rider and as a person.”


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