BRIGHAM, UTAH- AUGUST 14: Ben Hermans of Belgium...

Ben Hermans relishes leadership role after leaving the WorldTour

Ben Hermans moved to Israel Cycling Academy to seek leadership opportunities. The Belgian is showing in Utah that he deserves every opportunity that comes his way.

When Ben Hermans won the Tour of Oman in 2017, the Belgian hoped the victory would entice his BMC team to grant him leadership opportunities at more races.

Hermans was realistic with the hurdles facing him—BMC had Tejay van Garderen and Richie Port as its leaders for stage races. So, when a leadership role failed to materialize, Hermans looked elsewhere.

As luck would have it, the Israel Cycling Academy team was looking to bolster its roster for 2018 in hopes of getting wildcard invitations to grand tours. Hermans was the perfect fit—he joined the upstart squad with the goal of winning races.

“It’s a different experience, now I am the leader for the last two years,” Hermans said on Wednesday. “I got some nice opportunities; of course it’s nicer to be in the mix to win races and not just to follow the peloton and finish between 10th or 20th position in big races. I like more to do a little smaller races and be next to win. These last two years were really good for my confidence.”

In July Hermans finished second at the Adriatica Ionica Race in Italy Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Hermans is poised to add a major victory to his palmares here at the Tour of Utah. On Wednesday he dropped the field on the punishing climb to Powder Mountain, finishing 20 seconds ahead of James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS). Hermans is now in the driver’s seat to win the race overall.

Hermans’s pathway to this year’s Tour of Utah has included multiple high points on the international circuit. In 2018 the Israel Cycling Academy team received an invite to the Giro d’Italia, which started in Jerusalem.

Hermans already had five grand tour appearances under his belt, and he came into the race targeting stage victories. His best place finish was on stage 6, where he finished 11th. The second half of the season saw Hermans take a major stride as he won the overall at the Tour of Austria, and then finished second at the Tour of Utah to Sepp Kuss.

Fast forward one year later, and Hermans is again riding a mid-season high. In July Hermans defended his title at the Tour of Austria. Then, prior to Utah, luck seemed to smile on him.

Kuss did not come to Utah; he is instead racing the Vuelta a España. Then, pre-race favorites Tejay van Garderen and Dani Martinez (EF Education First) both bowed out.

Hermans, meanwhile, arrived to Utah on top form, having recently finished second to Bahrain-Meridia’s Mark Padun at the Adriatica Ionica Race in Italy. Hermans arrived in Park City on August second, and spent nine days training at altitude.

“Normally I’m adjusted to the altitude, to the heat, also the jet lag is behind me so I feel good,” he said.

Hermans excels on various terrain, however his success on long, grinding climbs has boosted him to the top of the results pages this year.

“It’s really nice to win on this climb,” Hermans said atop Powder Mountain. “Last year I won Kitzbüheler Horn [Tour of Austria], this year I won Fuscher Törl [Austria] and now I win here on Powder Mountain, so that was two good years for me. I’m really happy to have this on my palmares.”

If Hermans is able to hold on until Sunday, he would become the first Belgian to win Utah, capping off a successful second season. Hermans acknowledged his top form this year, but said he doubts he could have beaten Kuss, had the American decided to race Utah with the same form he had in 2018.

“It’s difficult to compare the two years, last year Sepp Kuss was really strong,” Hermans said. “Of course, my form was good last year, it’s good this year. The style of racing here suits me, you either have the legs or you don’t. I’m pretty good in the altitude and in the heat so I think that’s why I really like to race in Utah.

So, what’s next for Hermans? The 33-year-old’s contract with Israel Cycling Academy is up at the end of the year. The team is continuing on its trajectory to reach the WorldTour level, looking to add other big names to the roster to help sway races for wild card invitations.

“I don’t think we are going to move to the WorldTour next year, but every year we make the step forward, and I hope we can get the team a level higher next year or in two years,” Hermans said. “At the moment, we are talking to get the contract for one or more two years but I haven’t made a decision. It’s not about my results, we just need to see what is the plan for the future of the team and then we will decide.”