‘I am not a guy who just sits in the wheels’ - Cian Uijtdebroeks surprises himself with Giro d’Italia form

Visma-Lease a Bike’s Belgian star on podium hopes, his form, and overexcitement in the mountains

Clock09:47, Wednesday 8th May 2024
Cian Uijtdebroeks holds a 45-second advantage over Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale's Alex Baudin in the young rider's classification

© Getty Images

Cian Uijtdebroeks holds a 45-second advantage over Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale's Alex Baudin in the young rider's classification

Speaking to GCN at the start of stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia, Cian Uijtdebroeks could barely contain the wide smile that has quickly become his calling card on his race debut in Italy.

The 21-year-old rode above expectations through the opening weekend in Piedmont and his particularly strong performance on the stage 2 summit finish did not go unnoticed by his rivals in the general classification.

“He’s super strong, we all know how talented he is, he just needs to chill a bit,” was what Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) said of the young Belgian shortly after the stage had ended. “I’m not going to say too much because I don’t want him to listen to me yet, but he spends a lot of energy anyway.”

Thomas’ words were said with more than a hint of admiration and Uijtdebroeks could not help but laugh when GCN relayed the 37-year-old’s advice to the Visma-Lease a Bike leader on Tuesday morning. The wearer of the white young rider’s jersey was nothing if not honest when asked if the Welshman’s analysis was correct.

“Probably, yes!” he agreed. “And still with my positioning a bit, I need to learn. Sometimes I am maybe a little over motivated and going to the front or attacking.”

Read more: Geraint Thomas: ‘We’re not racing for second at the Giro d’Italia, we’ve got to keep the faith'

As Thomas and Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) went in pursuit of the lone leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) on the upper slopes of the climb to Oropa on stage 2, it was Uijtdebroeks who used his strength behind to pile the pressure on his rivals and bring the pair under control. It was quite the contrast from Uijtdebroeks’ pre-race promise in the Belgian press to ride conservatively at this year’s Giro.

Uijtdebroeks was the first to poke fun at his overeagerness when the matter was raised, but explained that he cannot ignore good form when it comes around.

“It is always also about the legs, if they feel good then I am not the guy who will just sit in the wheels,” he admitted. “I knew when Tadej went to just let him go and go at my own pace, but then after for sure I wanted to give it a try.”

No doubt struck by another moment of excitement, the Belgian sprinted to one bonus second during the stage on Tuesday, moving himself up one position to fourth place overall and reducing his deficit to third-placed Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe) to just eight seconds.

As it transpires, Uijtdebroeks’ tendency to overexert himself isn't news to his Visma-Lease a Bike sports director Marc Reef, who was equally amused to hear Thomas’ advice for his young rival.

“We know! We also hear this from our own guys, he needs to balance his energy expenditure,” Reef told GCN at the start of stage 3. “He needs to learn, he is riding in the wind a lot and catching a lot of wind when it is not necessary on the climbs.

“This is also something that he needs to work on, but that will all come with finding the confidence within himself that he can be part of the GC race in this Giro. It will also provide him more calmness and he can be more relaxed in certain moments.”

After helping to pace the pursuers through the final kilometres of stage 2, Uijtdebroeks found himself a little off the pace in the sprint, riding to seventh place across the line. It remained a performance above his years, however, and the 21-year-old is mature enough to know that he will have to spend his energy less frivolously in the future should he harbour ambitions to compete for the biggest victories on the calendar.

“It is a process of years where you need to get used to spending less energy when possible, but I think we are on a good way with that step by step,” he said.

Read more: Ben O’Connor: I was the dumbest guy in the Giro d'Italia

Uijtdebroeks better than expected after tough start to life with Visma-Lease a Bike

As for this Giro d’Italia, the first of his career, Uijtdebroeks did not enter the race with nearly the same expectations that greeted him after his eighth-place finish at last year’s Vuelta a España. Following his transfer to Visma-Lease a Bike over the winter, Uijtdebroeks struggled to find his feet through the opening months of the season.

Solid if not spectacular performances in O Gran Camiño and Tirreno-Adriatico were most recently followed by a lowkey showing at the Volta a Catalunya that ended with the Visma-Lease a Bike rider withdrawing from the race through illness on the final day.

To be sitting less than a minute from the race lead of Pogačar and having enjoyed some splendid performances through the opening days, then, came as a surprise to both Uijtdebroeks and his team alike.

“For sure the opening weekend was not my preferred weekend and it was still pretty punchy. The longer climbs still need to come so I am really happy with the position I am in now, to gain some time on some opponents, so let’s just say the fight is on,” was the rallying cry of the Belgian on Tuesday.

“No, we did not expect this,” agreed Reef. “We knew that he was in good shape but he’s still a young guy. We hoped that he would play a certain role in the GC using his free card, but to be here now already in this spot after a few days, that is really nice.”

Read more: The GC standings at the Giro d’Italia

Could the podium be a possibility for the young Belgian?

As for whether a bright start to the race should increase the expectations of what Uijtdebroeks might be able to achieve over the coming weeks, Reef and the youngster sought to keep their feet on the ground.

“We are here with the focus to try to win stages,” reiterated Reef. “Cian has a free role for GC and of course, we support him in the moments that it is possible, but we don’t want to put too much pressure on a guy who has just turned 21.

“He is still really young and of course from the outside world, the expectations on young guys are growing, but we do not think that is fair to him and not fair to ourselves.”

Away from the 21-year-old, Visma-Lease a Bike have been knocking on the door with Olav Kooij in the two sprint finishes on stages 3 and 4, with the Dutchman finishing sixth and fourth, respectively.

Following another shot at success for the Dutch sprinter on stage 5, all Visma-Lease a Bike eyes will return to Uijtdebroeks over three successive days for the GC riders between Thursday and Saturday. When asked by GCN whether the podium had become a distinct possibility for himself come the end of the race in Rome, Uijtdebroeks’ grin told the tale of a rider who was beginning to dream big, but for the moment, the 21-year-old would not be drawn into straying from the party line.

“For sure, we will see day by day and try to lose as little time as possible every day. Then we will see where we are in Rome in the end.”

Read more: Giro d'Italia's purple polemica: UCI involved amid question marks over Tadej Pogačar’s shorts

For all that a podium would mean to Visma-Lease a Bike at this year’s Giro, however, when seeking to quell the pressure on the shoulders of the former Tour de l’Avenir winner, Reef hinted that their aspirations for Uijtdebroeks lie in even bigger goals in the future.

“We are a team who wants to win and he just needs time to grow into a role whereby he can lead the team later on,” he said. “He is young, he needs to learn a lot and we also need to learn a lot about him, so that we work together in a good way.

“We have to get more used to each other and the lessons that we learn from this race we will take into the upcoming years where we have really big goals for him.”

For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

Related Content

Link to The final GC standings at the Giro d'Italia
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) in the Giro d'Italia pink leader's jersey

The final GC standings at the Giro d'Italia

Tadej Pogačar storms to overall victory, 9:56 ahead of Dani Martínez and 10:24 up on Geraint Thomas

Clock
Link to Geraint Thomas: ‘We’re not racing for second at the Giro d’Italia, we’ve got to keep the faith'
Geraint Thomas at the finish of stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia

Geraint Thomas: ‘We’re not racing for second at the Giro d’Italia, we’ve got to keep the faith'

Ineos Grenadiers leader defiant after stage 2 summit finish to Santuario di Oropa, with the Welshman taking bonus seconds behind Tadej Pogačar

Clock
Link to Ben O’Connor: I was the dumbest guy in the Giro d'Italia
Ben O'Connor scrambles to limit his losses after going into the red on stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia

Ben O’Connor: I was the dumbest guy in the Giro d'Italia

Australian 'gambled too much' and paid the price for trying to follow Tadej Pogačar up Oropa

Clock
Link to Giro d'Italia: ‘Tadej Pogačar is just a little kid having fun on the bike, it’s incredible’ says Mikkel Honoré
Mikkel Honoré went on the attack on stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia but was followed by Tadej Pogačar

Giro d'Italia: ‘Tadej Pogačar is just a little kid having fun on the bike, it’s incredible’ says Mikkel Honoré

EF Education-EasyPost rider went for broke in the final kilometres of stage 3 at the Giro d’Italia and although he came up short, it was an experience worth having

Clock
Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox