Thomas De Gendt may be racing the Tour of Oman right now but the Belgian breakaway specialist is keeping more than half an eye on the spectacular progress that his young teammate Arnaud De Lie is making back home in Europe.
The Lotto-Dstny sprint phenomenon won nine races last year, his first as a professional and this season he has already taken another three. At only 20 years of age, the Belgian has a long way to go before hitting his upper limit.
De Gendt likens his compatriot to no less a star than Peter Sagan in his earliest days.
“He’s playful on the bike, a bit like Sagan was in his young days. So he still has some margin to improve but for now, it’s still all playing and having fun attacking even when he doesn’t have to, and that’s nice to see,” De Gendt told Cyclingnews during the Tour of Oman.
“I remember when Sagan was with Cannondale and Liquigas, he won a stage in Paris-Nice by attacking with more than three kilometres to go, because even if he was the fastest, he attacked like that just because he could.
“It’s nice that Arnaud still has that sense of fun.”
De Lie is also impressive “because of the way he can hold his own in tough sprints against guys like Mads Pedersen”, who, like Sagan, is a former World Champion – “in race finishes as hard as the Etoile de Bessèges.”
After winning two stages in Besseges and the Clasica Comunitat Valenciana 1969 already this season, De Lie is the odds-on favourite for the Clasica de Almería on Sunday. Further down the line, he’ll be heading into the unknown at the WorldTour Monuments, with debuts in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix.
“He’ll be doing the Classics this year to learn and improve,” De Gendt said. “If in San Remo he can get over those climbs with the front group, and if he can, then he’ll have a chance to win. But he has to see what they’re like first.
“It’s safe to say that he’s still very young and still has a few years to learn, and in a few years’ time he’ll go there with the objective to win.”
Apart from his ability to have fun and win races at the same time, arguably what impresses De Gendt is that De Lie is making his mark against hardened Classics fast men like Pedersen in races where the Dane was clearly in flying form.
“It’s good he’s winning in the smaller races, but that stage he took against Pederson and the way he won afterwards was really exceptional,” De Gendt said. “A good sprinter can win 10 bunch sprints a year if they are normal ones, but to be able to do something like De Lie in…
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