Grenadiers trio relishing Flanders challenge

03 Apr 2021

Grenadiers trio relishing Flanders challenge

On the eve of the cobbled Monument we caught up with three Grenadiers - Luke Rowe, Dylan van Baarle and Tom Pidcock - to chat about their form, feelings and expectations ahead of the Tour of Flanders.

Luke Rowe
How are you feeling, and how does the dynamic feel amongst the group this year?
“It’s a different approach to normal this year due to COVID for me, that knocked me back over Christmas, so now here I am jumping in at the thick end, some fresh meat for the grinder. I’ve needed to do a couple more stage races to get the miles in the bank.
“The biggest difference is the squad makeup. For three, four, even five years we’ve had a very similar group with a few guys changing. This year it’s three or four guys completely new, for some of them it’s their first shot at the Classics, so that’s the biggest change. I feel it needed to be done - we’ve been knocking on the door, we’ve been good, but realistically we didn’t actually deliver a lot over those years, so it’s good. They’ve stepped up to the plate straight away. That’s made a big change.”
How has it felt not being at the Classics?
“It’s been strange for me. The Classics are races I never get to watch on TV - pretty much my whole career, I’ve been there racing them. It was even a bit frustrating watching them, but obviously I’ve had to take this different approach. It’s exciting isn’t it. These guys are young, they’re going into the races all guns blazing, they’re excited, it’s what you want and it’s what you need in these races. Pure passion and emotion. You feel that with them and see it in how they race. Step by step let’s see where they can go, but you’d sit back now and say why can’t they go on to be at the pointy end and one day win these races. Jonny [Narvaez], Tom [Pidcock] and Ethan [Hayter] are three young guys who can really go all the way. I believe that.”
What are your experiences of racing with Tom?
“Tom’s impressive. The first thing that hits you is his level of professionalism - when I joined the team at his age I had no clue about anything: diet, training, nothing. I just rode to the cafe. I thought I trained hard but I didn’t have a clue really. You look at him now and his approach is so professional. It’s clear what he is: he’s a winner. He may not have won yet, he may not win for a couple of years, but long term essentially he’s a guy who can turn up to these races and other races throughout the year and deliver.
“And he’s a nice guy to be around. He’s bouncing off the walls. After San Remo, he was just buzzing, not because of the result he got but because he never thought he could be in the final with those superstars. It’s exciting to see how excited he is. A lot of people can look from the outside and think maybe he’s a little cocky but they couldn’t be more wrong. He’s a grounded, genuine, down to earth kid.”
What can we expect from you tomorrow and how is your shape?
“Catalunya was brilliant. I was close to the best I’ve ever been to be honest. Physically it was a tough, demanding week but you buzz off the results. When the guys are performing like that you naturally raise your level. It was great to be a part of that 1-2-3 - it’s a part of history, it really is.
“But this week has been tough. I was sick after Catalunya and I don’t feel close to 100%. It’s not ideal. A week ago I’d have said it would be nice to try and get into the final of this race and play a role but now that seems unrealistic. I knew that before I flew here and I still said to the team I want to be there, I want to be with the group, the guys, and we can decide on my role closer to the race. It looks like it will be more of a support role which is a shame because leadership opportunities don’t come around too often but you’ve got to be realistic. If you’re at 99% in these races, it’s not enough. And when you’re supporting guys who, when I can sit here now and say I honestly believe they can do something special tomorrow, then I’ll support them to the best of my ability.”

Dylan van Baarle:
How do you feel after finally taking a win in a big Classic?
“After last Sunday in Wevelgem, I thought that it was time to start believing in myself. I know I have the legs. It’s the switch you have to make when you start to believe in yourself and you know how strong you are. Maybe in these weeks, it’s fallen together for me. In the past, maybe I’ve had some bad luck and had the wrong timing. Now everything is going in the right direction. I don’t think I feel any different after the win but maybe I’m a little more confident. Form-wise, I should be the same tomorrow. I hope!”
Do you feel there’s been a change of approach across the team in this year’s Classics?
“The change of faces has made a big difference among the group. The young guys just want to race, just like they did at U23. We’ve gone in with a whole different mentality. You can’t compare the Classics to a stage race where you do a leadout to a climb and that’s it. The main thing we’ve learned is that, yes, we try to stick together of course, but also it’s not a problem if you find your own way. We meet each other on the most important points, but don’t stress about it. I think that’s the main thing that we’ve changed.
“We also have the legs to race more aggressively this year. Ethan and Tom, they both like to race, and the racing itself has evolved that way. You have to race hard to get the results. On Wednesday, the way Ethan raced helped set it up for me. It was pretty cool. Now we just have to try and do it again!”

Tom Pidcock
As we approach the final Classic of this campaign, how do you reflect on what’s gone so far?
“Firstly the Classics are much more unpredictable than I thought. I’m much more used to being able to control my environment in the U23s. Then you step up to the WorldTour and the level is much higher. Any little thing that goes wrong makes a much bigger impact in these races. In Dwars Door I crashed at the worst possible point and there’s no way you can get back to the front then.
“It’s been a lot of learning and I’ll take the positives out of the whole block.”
How do you feel you’ve settled into the team?
“I feel as though I’ve slotted in really well with the group. I get on with everyone. I could go for a ride with any of the guys and talk for five hours. It’s nice to be able to do that with a group of riders. It’s an easy atmosphere to drop into, for sure.
“And over the last few days we’ve had Luke with us. He’s so experienced, he’s been there so many times, and he says obvious things but when he tells you it stays in your head. I did worlds last year with him, and then San Remo. After the worlds last year I thought there’s nobody better in the world at his job. Then at San Remo again, he was flawless, exactly when we needed him to be. It’s invaluable having someone like him in the team.”
Excited for your first Flanders?
“It will be weird without crowds, but then that’s also become quite normal now, which is a shame. I’d love to be doing my first Flanders with a crowd. In the future I can class next year’s as my first proper one! Of course I’m excited, but there’s no pressure. I just want a clean, smooth race, and to know that I’ve done all I can.”