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After 11 years on the same team, Tim Wellens was too comfortable in his surroundings, and he needed to test himself again.
That’s why the 31-year-old Belgian decided to make the surprise decision to quit Lotto Soudal [now called Lotto Dstny -ed] and sign a two-year contract with UAE Team Emirates.
Wellens says that his split with Lotto was amicable and his decision to leave was driven by a desire to kick his career back into life and pick up some big wins.
“I left Lotto on a very good basis. So, I was friends with everyone, I was just not getting the results I wanted to have. So, I wanted to go out of my comfort zone,” Wellens told VeloNews.
“If I want to have better results, I need to go to a better team. I was not going to leave Lotto to go to a same-level team, average team, or even less good team and there are not so many teams much better than a Lotto. For me, there are only three really good teams, Jumbo-Visma, Ineos, and UAE and, in the end, it was UAE.”
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After having a career-high season in 2018 where he notched up eight victories, Wellens’ win tally has slumped in recent seasons to two per year over the last three years. Traditionally, Wellens has got his year off to a strong start and is usually good for a win in the opening couple of months of the season, but he’s struggled once the big races really kick in.
Indeed, it has been three years since Wellens scored a WorldTour win, which came in a rare late-season success with two stages at the 2020 Vuelta a España. With the end of his career now looming closer than the start of his career, Wellens is conscious of the dwindling opportunities, and he wants to make sure he’s wrung his time as a professional for everything.
“It’s not that it was not clicking [at Lotto], but the results were not there. If I would have a great season, I would not have left. But in the end, I’m a cyclist, and when I stop my career, I want to have extracted everything that I could,” he said.
At the time Wellens signed with UAE, Lotto Soudal was fighting for its survival in the WorldTour. It was a fight that it would lose, and the Belgian squad will be racing at ProTeam level for the next three seasons.
Wellens was sad to see the team he had raced with for so long leave the WorldTour, but he says that it didn’t deserve to stay up.
“It hurt for me, and for the National Lottery, it’s the first time in so many years that it’s not on the highest level, Wellens said. “Of course, it’s not a good situation. It’s shit, but the rules are what they are. Everybody knew the rules, and everybody had an equal playing field. It’s hard, let’s be honest, but we didn’t deserve anymore to be in the WorldTour, we didn’t have the results.
“We were not performing as we should in the last two years, I didn’t do good. Then it’s normal that you got the demotion, but it hurts. I hope next year they do good, and I hope to see them back in the WorldTour in three years.”
Working with Tadej Pogačar
Had Wellens stayed with Lotto, he would have stayed as the team’s leader at a whole host of races throughout the season, with sprinters Caleb Ewan and Arnaud De Lie the main alternative options. His move to UAE Team Emirates sees him mixing it with a whole host of superstar riders with similar skillsets to him.
With two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar branching out into more one-day races, including the Belgian cobbled classics and the Ardennes races, Wellens will have plenty of competition for leadership. He is comfortable with that and he believes that having a rider like Pogačar raises the level of everybody.
“If you have somebody like him in the team, everybody believes and everybody knows he can win and puts everyone in like in the higher levels. Also, not only the riders, but the staff, and everybody makes a big difference,” Wellens said.
“There are many races, where Tadej is not there. The reason I left Lotto was to win a race that I have never won. So, a big classic, preferably a Belgian classic, would be one of the goals. That’s difficult to say this or this, of course, I want to win Liège or Flanders, so I’m also happy with Omloop Het Niewsblad, Dwars door Vlaanderen or Flèche Wallonne.”
Wellens will kickstart his season in familiar surroundings at the Mallorca Challenge, where he’s racked up a few wins during his career. The first phase of his season will be designed around the classics, which will climax at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
After that, he wants to join Pogačar’s support network at the Tour de France and help the Slovenian regain his title after losing out to Jonas Vingegaard last season.
“After Liège, it’s a rest, but then the second goal is the Tour, I would like to go to help somebody who can win the Tour,” he said. “I know in one of the best teams in the world, the competition is very high to get selected. That’s why I say whenever good people surround you, it puts everyone on a higher level.”