MÅLSELV, Norway (VN) — While Tejay van Garderen, Philippe Gilbert, and Greg Van Avermaet have been making the biggest headlines for BMC Racing these past few years, Ben Hermans has quietly delivered a collection of top-10 results in one-week stage races and hillier one-day events for some time. After this year, he probably won’t be able to fly under the radar any longer.
Hermans opened 2015 with a performance in the Tour of Oman that hinted at things to come, a respectable eighth place, thanks to his strong ride on the toughest climb in the race, Green Mountain. Then the real breakout came this spring. At Brabantse Pijl, a lumpy race of 205km, Hermans made a solo attack late in the day and held off a chasing group of fast finishers to come away with his first-career UCI 1.HC-rated win. Less than a month later he nabbed a stage win and sixth overall at the Tour de Yorkshire.
Since then, he has kept his foot on the gas, and a string of recent successes in big stage races have announced his arrival loud and clear, proving that his late escape in Brabtantse Pijl was no fluke.
He rode to second overall in the Tour of Austria in July, and then nabbed another podium spot, this time at the WorldTour-level, in the Tour of Poland — third-place overall.
By the time he arrived at the Arctic Race of Norway, Hermans was not exactly a sleeper pick any more: Norwegian legend Thor Hushovd tipped him as a favorite for the event. But even with the top climbers in the Arctic Race peloton all looking in his direction, Hermans powered to a victory in the queen stage Saturday, first allowing others like Astana’s Rein Taaramäe to open hostilities before launching a decisive strike of his own to take the win.
His recent podium performances were certainly notable, but Hermans wanted to guarantee that this flurry of results would include a decisive victory. Now, he’s got a stage win in a 2.HC race, and with a seven-second GC lead, he’s in a good position to take the overall victory in the Arctic Race as well.
“I’ve finished already a lot of times second and third, so I didn’t want to lose again today,” Hermans said after the finish. “I went really, really deep — I’m really happy that I could take Taaramäe at the finish.
He’s shown the potential for some time, but this year he clearly has the form as well. Saturday, he brought the motivation in spades, and that may have been what tipped him over the edge to take the first big mountaintop victory of his career.
“In Poland I was so close to the win, and with this anger, I could win today,” he said.
That sort of anger isn’t likely to disappear overnight with just one stage to go — Hermans is sure to use it to keep his race lead intact over a hilly final day of racing above the Arctic Circle. A flying BMC Racing squad certainly will help his chances. Hermans’ teammates, Silvan Dillier and Dylan Teuns, finished fourth and fifth in stage 3, respectively.
“[Stage 4] is a hard parcours, and we have a strong team,” Hermans said. “We had three guys in the last kilometer [in stage 3] in the first four positions. So I think we have a team we can control, and we are quite confident we can do it tomorrow.”
A win for Hermans Sunday would mark his third-straight stage-race podium performance. On a team with high profile talents like van Garderen, Hermans’ climbing ability might translate to grand tour success should he be given a leadership role. But Hermans himself is the first to dismiss any notions of grand tour contention, especially with Richie Porte set to join BMC in 2016. Before the opening stage of the Arctic Race, Hermans said he prefers the classics and one-week races, and he’s sticking to that line even after the mountaintop win in Målselv.
“I’ve done three grand tours, and it was always a little hard for me,” he said. “So I’ll first focus on one-week races, maybe in the WorldTour, and then we can go step-by-step”
Hermans is setting himself up for continued success in his preferred races. Primed to rack up another big podium performance in a one-week race, he figures as a key component in an always-strong BMC squad for the hilly classics and perhaps much more.