BUSAN, South Korea (VN) — After notching eight wins in 2014, Wouter Wippert (Drapac Pro Cycling) continues onward and upward in 2015.
The 24-year-old Dutchman kicked off the season with a stage 6 victory at the Tour Down Under to open the WorldTour calendar in January.
Since then, Wippert has recorded two more wins at the Tour de Taiwan in March and a string of impressive podiums including two second-place finishes to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) at the Amgen Tour of California on stages 4 and 8, respectively, last month.
But the second step on the podium is not something that satisfies Wippert, who started racing bikes at age 7.
“I’m pretty happy with my form at the moment,” he told VeloNews after the Tour de Korea press conference on Saturday. “California was three podiums, but not in the spot I wanted actually. In fact, I was a bit disappointed by those results and since then I’ve trained hard afterwards and should be good this week, so we’ll see.”
The eight-day Tour de Korea kicks off on Sunday with a 189.1km stage 1 from Busan to Gumi. With few climbs, the UCI Asia Tour 2.1-classified race will feature plenty of opportunities for Wippert, who is salivating at the chance to mix it up with the race’s only WorldTour team Orica-GreenEdge and their prized 20-year-old sprinting sensation Caleb Ewan.
“I’m hoping for eight bunch sprints,” said a grinning Wippert. “But that’s going to be hard, I guess. There’s a big chance that there is one or two stages that a break could stay away, but I hope there are as many chances as possible to sprint for the win.
“We are going give it our best shot this week.”
The former Lotto-Belisol stagiaire, who finished inside the top 10 at the U23 World Championships twice (seventh in 2011, ninth in 2012), joined the Australian Pro Continental team Drapac in 2014 after spending a year with Team3M (CT) following a broken patella suffered after a crash at the Sparkassen Munsterland Giro to end his season and stint with Lotto a year earlier.
However, Wippert believes his brush with the WorldTour was not his last and looks to 2016 as an opportunity to make the leap back to cycling’s elite.
“I’ve proved that it’s possible for me to compete with those guys and even beat them,” said Wippert. “Hopefully at the end of the year I can make the next step to WorldTour level and from the next year on compete with those guys every race and try to beat them.”
Until then, Wippert he needs to work on his endurance and admits he must make the best of his opportunity with Drapac and continue to win races and improve, with the Tour de Korea being the next best chance to catch the attention of watchful WorldTour eyes.
“The biggest challenge I feel that I have when facing WorldTour riders is endurance, as they have more opportunities to race than what we have on our calendar,” explained Wippert.
“I am riding with a really good group of guys at the moment and I want to make the most of my time here at Drapac,” he continued. “All the riders are happy to be on the team and everyone is committed to the same goal. It’s just cool to work with guys that want to go for it.
“For me, I have to just keep working hard for my team and keep winning races, and Tour de Korea is the perfect opportunity for me to try to pick the level up this week and take at least one stage win home.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.