Culture

Day in the life: Oliver Naesen

Nine questions with Oliver Naesen, the 29-year-old Belgian who has taken to racing online to satisfy his competitive drive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought professional cycling to a halt. In the coming weeks we will be reaching out to pro riders and other personalities from the sport to understand how their lives are continuing amidst the shutdown.

The last place in the world Oliver Naesen thought he’d be this weekend is at home.

The 29-year-old Belgian was poised for a breakout classics campaign. After nipping at the edges of a major breakthrough, the Ag2r-La Mondiale star was confident this was going to be his year to take the next step in the northern classics.

Now everything is on hold. He’s cooling his jets at home in Belgium, and fixing his racing jones via online. Last weekend, he was second in the virtual Tour of Flanders behind sometimes-training-partner and good friend Greg Van Avermaet.

Location: Berlare, Belgium

What are the current regulations for where you live about going outside?
The government here is allowing us to go outside and exercise, so long as everyone follows the rules. In Belgium, we can ride alone or with one person. If we see people riding in big groups, people treat them as pariahs. There is an immediate social stigma. People here respect the rules. That keeps our heads healthy.

What races were you planning to do that have been canceled or postponed?
We were racing at Paris-Nice when things started to blow up. First it was Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem getting canceled. We hoped that Flanders could have been saved, because it’s never been canceled, not even during World War II. Then it was obvious the government was going to shut everything down. These are the most important one-day races of the year for me.

What is your motivation for training right now?
I don’t want to think about all the work I put in over the winter to be ready for the classics. I’m training more or less the same volume as always. Right now, the key is [to] not eat pizza and hamburgers every day, and gain 5 kilos.

Oliver Naesen
In February, prior to lockdown, Naesen raced the 71st Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. Photo: by David Ramos/Getty Images

What are you doing today? Are you training?
Today, I rode 150km this morning, with about 33kph average. It’s a normal day, just basic endurance. Sometimes I will do some sprint work and also some core work in the gym. I’m not making big efforts, but riding to maintain my fitness in case we can start racing again. Right now, I’m doing 20 to 25 hours per week.

RELATED: Naesen puts Strava account on hold

What are you going to work on?
That depends on when we can start racing again, or if we can. The classics are canceled, so let’s hope the Tour de France can be raced. If we miss that, it will be a big bummer for the sport. There is still some talk the Belgian nationals might happen in June, so let’s see what happens. That could be a nice target just to give you something to work toward.

What indoor gear are you using?
I’m not a big fan of indoor training. Even when it’s cold and snowy, I usually still ride outside. I have an Elite trainer, and use Wahoo. Our team has us on Zwift, and we are going to be doing some of the online races. (editor’s note: Naesen was second on the virtual Flanders race)

How are you communicating with friends and family?
Things are pretty normal, it’s just that everything is closed, like everywhere else in Europe. At least we are at home. I live with my girlfriend, so it’s just her and me. I have one training buddy I ride with. That’s about it. Otherwise, we talk to people on the phone or in chat. Everything is closed, except for the shops for food and bakeries. If I would break something on my bike, all the bike shops are all closed.

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As long as I got you 🤗🥰! #restdaysarethebestdays #wantdankanikmee #bettertogether

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Have you received any helpful advice?
We’ve been talking with the trainers on the team. Everyone is scaling back in their training, especially for the guys who cannot ride outside. With your next goal maybe 10 or 12 weeks away, it doesn’t really matter right now. Everyone is just trying to get through this as best we can.

When do you think you’ll race again?
I have no idea. It’s very bad for me right now. I’m 29, and I was hoping to have my best year yet in the classics. Now that is all lost. We are still hoping the organizers can find some time for them in the fall. Even that is not for sure. A cycling career is pretty short anyway, and you really only have a few years on top, so for me to lose the classics, which are the most important part of the year along with the Tour, that’s hard. Also, my contract ends this year. But it’s never worth it to stress out on things you cannot control. The disappointment is already behind me. Everyone is in the same boat. I hope we can have some racing before the season is over. That’s what is keeping me going right now.