Cian Uijtdebroeks: Belgium's other great Grand Tour hope

An eighth place finish in his debut Vuelta a España taught valuable lessons, but showed the 20-year-old is a Grand Tour winner in the making

This article was originally published in Spanish at Volata

The case of Cian Uijtdebroeks is one of those cases that fits the current dynamic of new talents cycling: jumping directly from the junior category to the professional category. Remco Evenepoel, Tadej Pogačar, Juan Ayuso, Iván Romeo... Times have changed and now the best WorldTour teams are beginning to observe, analyse and capture the stars of the future from a very early age. When Uijtdebroeks achieved victory in the junior Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2020, many knocked on his door, but it was the Bora-Hansgrohe project that was most appealing to his interests. After a year in Bora’s U19 training team, Team Auto Eber, in 2022 the Belgian became a professional at just 18 years old.

Uijtdebroeks soon confirmed that he was a diamond in the rough and put himself at the forefront of his generation by winning the Tour de l'Avenir with authority, winning two prestigious stages in the Alps in Saint-François-Longchamp and in La Toussuire. In 2023 he has continued with that hopeful evolution, although this time rubbing shoulders with the elite members of the WorldTour peloton. In all the stage races that he has competed this season, except for the Tour of the Alps which he abandoned due to illness, he has finished in the top 10 overall: Tour of Oman, Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse. An eighth this September in the Vuelta a España reflects his consistency, one of his greatest strengths.

Read more: Vuelta a España 2023 team ratings - how did each team perform in the final Grand Tour of the year?

The Vuelta was Uijtdebroeks' Grand Tour debut, an experiment to see how he would perform in the longest of races against the toughest of competition, and one from which he has drawn very positive conclusions. “What I took away from this Vuelta is the learning of knowing that it is very easy to abandon, let's say, the fight for the general classification,” he told Volata at the start of the final stage of the Spanish Grand Tour at the Zarzuela racecourse. “You have to always stay calm and be constant to overcome difficult moments and keep riding.

“I have suffered chafing in the saddle area, some days I had a headache and other days my legs were simply not there. But that's where you have to be mentally strong so you don't go really crazy and say ‘enough is enough’. The key is to stay calm and not get too stressed,” Uijtdebroeks continued with the smile and jovial character that characterises him.

Being prepared to face your first three-week race at just 20 years old is unusual. Doing so with guarantees of being one of the candidates for the podium is within the reach of a select few, and although Cian Uijtdebroeks may not yet be at that stage, he is on his way. It is a process of personal development to know how the body will react to an unknown effort and the Belgian fits into an almost perfect cocktail: upbeat, genuine and open in his expressions with a strong personality and very clear ideas: “In this Vuelta I wanted to show that I can maintain the level during the three weeks”, he said. “I know my weak points, which are time trials and explosiveness, and I know that I must improve it in the coming years.”

Cian Uijtdebroeks

(Photo by Thomas Maheux/ASO)

That lack of explosiveness took its toll on him on the penultimate day in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Uijtdebroeks could not stay with the final moves among those involved in the general classification and gave up valuable time that relegated him to eighth place in favor of his teammate Aleksandr Vlasov. The tension between the Jumbo-Visma trident somewhat overshadowed the potentials schism that was also experienced in the ranks of Bora. Leaving those internal disputes aside, Uijtdebroeks demonstrated on stage 13’s finish to the Tourmalet, where he finished fifth alongside the main contenders, and on the Angliru on stage 17 that his true potential is long, endurance climbs. “I expected it to be worse,” he told Sporza with his usual smile after completing the ascent of the brutal Asturian climb.

This role of a pure climber is somewhat different from the cyclist prototype of Belgian culture, more focused on the spring Classics and one-day races. However, together with Remco Evenepoel, who in the 2022 Vuelta achieved Belgium's first victory in the race since Eddy Merckx, Uijtdebroeks is part of that new generation that wants to take centre stage in this type of event. And it is something that he is excited about. “It is something special because Belgium has been looking for the winner of a Grand Tour for a long time, especially for the Tour,” he said. “With Remco we have one, without a doubt, but I like to feel that I am also part of that process and I notice that I have the support so that I can try it too.”

Staying focused and not letting up is the main lesson he has internalised during his first three-week race. Possibly, disconnecting at the hotel after the stages is a fundamental recipe to achieve this, although he admitted that in the Vuelta he has not done anything special either. “I haven't had an established daily routine throughout my career, it depended a little on each moment,” Uijtdebroeks said. “There are days when I used to watch TV a little, but what I like most before going to bed after dinner is listening to a little music to escape.”

Cover image by Sprint Cycling Agency/Unipublic

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