“If you want to win a WorldTour race, you must be very good,” Arnaud De Lie says. It’s early September, and the Belgian is sitting in the lobby of the Delta Hotel in Québec. He hasn’t won a WorldTour race just yet, but everybody knows it’s only a matter of time given his repeated feats of strength Off Broadway over the first two seasons of his professional career.
Two days later, to nobody’s great surprise, De Lie justifies his Canadian expedition by stomping his way up the Grande Allée to claim his first top-flight win at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec ahead of Corbin Strong and Michael Matthews. The coaching manual says a rider should never sprint with his hands on the hoods, but the 21-year-old’s talent is such that he can safely ignore that diktat.
No, the normal rules don’t apply here. De Lie underscores the point three weeks later at the Famenne Ardenne Classic, when he pulls his foot out in the final sprint and pedals with just one leg for the final 50 metres. Even at that reduced capacity, he still cranks out enough power to go the distance and hold on for the win. The boy is clearly a bit special.
In between those two victories, De Lie also demonstrates a neat line in racing with one arm behind his back. His form and clear aptitude for the course make him an obvious candidate to lead Belgium at the Road European Championships in Drenthe, but Wout van Aert’s seniority – not to mention his pressing need for a big win at the end of a difficult season – decides the hierarchy.
If De Lie is disappointed at his standing, it doesn’t show in his performance. On the final lap, he unflinchingly does the job he was assigned to do, and then some, producing a remarkable surge on the VAM-Berg to drag Van Aert back into contention against the lone escapee Christophe Laporte.
Somehow, Laporte still manages to dredge up enough speed to edge Van Aert in the sprint, but De Lie, fourth on the day, hasn’t ridden entirely in vain. This will be a most useful calling card for future championships, perhaps even for next summer’s Paris Olympic Games. His days as a deluxe domestique are already numbered. Or as former national coach José Decauwer puts it on Sporza afterwards: “I think it is one of the last times that De Lie will work like this for Van Aert.”
Then again, De Lie was already turning heads long before he turned…