MONTRÉAL (VN) — Still only 24 years old, Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) has established himself as a connoisseur of the do-or-die attack. Sometimes he strikes out big-time. Sometimes he delivers, and it’s a thing to behold.
If the past month is any indication, it looks like he’s starting to get the hang of turning bold attempts into big results. Either alone or with a companion, all-or-nothing late breakaways have landed him three huge victories in the last 30 days: a stage win and the overall victory in the Eneco Tour in August, and now his first WorldTour one-day win in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal.
In the final lap of Sunday’s rain-soaked circuit race in Canada, Wellens made a late escape with Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) to outfox the peloton, and then left an exhausted Yates behind in the final 100 meters.
“Orica-GreenEdge and Etixx-Quick-Step had led for most of the day and in the final climb I told myself I’d better go or risk being upstaged by riders of either team,” Wellens said. “I jumped in Adam’s wheel and we managed to make a gap and work well together to battle it out in the finale.”
Some fans of cycling find today’s peloton too hesitant to engage in daring attacks, but Wellens has shown that he is not interested in settling for an anonymous spot in the top 20. Whether going off the front alone or with a bit of company, he is not the type to hold anything back when he sees his moment, even if that means doing the lion’s share of the work in a small group to keep chasers at bay.
“I attacked on the last long climb and then Tim came across to me, and then he gave me a big turn right away, so he was super strong,” said Yates. “And then all the way in towards the finish, he was doing the most work and giving the biggest turns so I think it showed that not just at the finish he was stronger, but basically from the top of the climb all the way to the finish.”
A 23-year-old Wellens burst onto the scene with a surprise 2014 Eneco Tour win last August, sticking a solo move 10km from the stage-6 finish to take the stage and ultimately the overall victory. He couldn’t fly under anyone’s radar after that.
Some riders lose that attacking spirit as they develop into consistent contenders, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for Wellens. After winning that Eneco Tour, he made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to solo clear in Il Lombardia in October. This spring, he launched a blistering attack on the penultimate climb of the 2015 Flèche Wallonne, only to be caught just 500 meters from the finish line.
He made it all the way through July without delivering on another home-run attempt, suggesting that perhaps his 2014 Eneco Tour win was a flash in the pan — but he proved otherwise in his return to the 2015 Eneco Tour. No one could claim ignorance of his potential this time around, and yet he still managed to outwit the pack, again in the sixth stage of the race. Just as in 2014, he launched a long-range move that gave him the stage win and enough of a GC gap to repeat as champion.
Success on classics terrain in the Eneco Tour makes Wellens an obvious candidate for success in the one-day races as well, but his palmares was devoid of podium results in WorldTour one-day events until Sunday’s GP Montréal. With that under his belt, he seems poised to land bigger and better results.
While he’s proud to have some impressive victories on his palmares already, Wellens is driven most by the prospect of winning races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.
“That’s really why I train,” he said when asked about his ambitions in the monuments.
He’ll have his chance at that level of success soon. Wellens now shifts his focus to Lombardia, where an especially challenging profile will have the aggressive types salivating. For Wellens, it’s a chance to go from winning big races to winning one of the biggest, and in all-out pursuit of that goal, he doesn’t mind being left off the Belgian worlds squad — in fact, he was even willing to take himself out of consideration.
“I actually called [Belgian team selector] Carlo Bomans about the world championships and told him my main goal for the end of the season was the Tour of Lombardy, and worlds was not an ideal preparation for that. He told me he had not planned to call me up anyway,” Wellens said with a smile.
With the form he has shown since August, Wellens will be among the top contenders in the Italian monument in the first week of October. Whether he can take that big win remains to be seen, but it’s seems certain that he’ll swing for the fences if he sees even the slightest opportunity.