The iconic and long-awaited Belgian opening weekend is looming. For the second year in a row, Kevin Geniets will take part in it, but before launching his third season with the WorldTeam, the 24-year-old man from Luxembourg sat down to take stock of his first years as a pro, and to explain why he decided to specialize in the Classics.

How was your offseason Kevin?

It went very well. In December, I joined the team in Fréjus for the usual interviews and I took the opportunity to stay there a little longer. We shared a flat for a week together with Stefan [Küng], Tobias [Ludvigsson] and Fabian [Lienhard]. In early January, I went for a personal training camp with Olivier Le Gac around Calpe, just to get kilometers in the legs. I did a big block of endurance over ten days there, came home for a week and then headed for the Sierra Nevada for an altitude training camp. I met again with Stefan and Fabian, and Matteo [Badilatti] was also there this time. Initially, we were supposed to stay only a fortnight, but we learned about the cancellation of the Tour of Algarve during the camp. So we decided to extend it and we ended up staying for twenty days.

“There is obviously excitement”

Was it your first altitude training camp?

Absolutely, that was something new to me. I wanted to give it a try. I discussed it with Julien [Pinot, his coach] last year already but we agreed it was still a bit early, so we decided to postpone it to this year. During the first days, you can feel the body struggles a little. It’s constantly trying to adjust. At first, the feelings are not really good, but then we see that the body is getting used to it. In the end, everything went well. The first week helped us to adjust, and then we did two weeks of good work. We did a lot of endurance at first, and then added a few exercises, like intensity or time trial. The good thing about Sierra Nevada is that there are plenty of flat roads. It’s perfect for doing heavy workloads. This is the reason why Classic riders often choose this location. Anyway, my body reacted pretty well, I’m happy. I have been able to train well, and although I do not yet see the concrete impact, I can feel it did me good. It’s a good sign.

Was Tour of Algarve’s cancellation a bit of a blow?

It was really disappointing as it’s a great race to get back on track. The weather is nice and the course is great. We would have had time to get back into the race mode progressively in order to be ready for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. That being said, we quickly moved on, we adjusted by extending the training camp and we got back into a positive dynamic.

What is the main feeling a few days before the opening weekend?

There is a bit of everything. Obviously, there is excitement. I watch some of the races on TV right now, and of course it makes you want to get back to it. We did a good block of training and we now want to show that we did everything right. There is also apprehension, because you don’t know how it is going to be. It’s a returning race. Sometimes it goes well, other times it doesn’t, even though everything’s good in training. It’s also been a few months since we fought for position, and this is something very important in these races. Having said that, it does come back quickly, there are no excuses. The fact we haven’t raced yet might be a disadvantage for the first race of the season, because we need to get the race rhythm, but that will have no influence on the whole Classics block and the goals that follow. Personally, the form is pretty good, the numbers are pretty encouraging and I’ll be super motivated on Saturday. I also know where I set foot as I did the opening weekend last year.

“It’s important to know where you want to go”

What do you remember from your 2020 season?

What makes me happy is to see that I have improved. I felt I was able to absorb the efforts better. For example, I had recovered well for the Luxembourg time trial championship, which took place the day after the Tour de Wallonie ended, and then for the road race two days later. I felt the engine got bigger, which is really motivating. Then, I obviously think of my national road race title, which is also my first victory among the pros.

How important was this win?

When you turn pro, you don’t necessarily think about winning right away. First you want to gain experience, to develop, to make your engine bigger. You only get closer to victory or great results after that, really slowly. This is more or less the path I have followed. Even though it was not a “normal” race, in the way that there were not all the teams, being able to raise your arms gives you the confidence that you can do it again. I’m also lucky to wear my country’s colours. Living in France, and being sometimes seen as French, it is a great pride to show my jersey here (smiles). It’s also a way to always have a bit of Luxembourg with me.

Last year, you also joined the Classics’ squad…

With Julien and the team, the goal is to see how far I can go in these races. That’s a big objective, not just this year, but for the long term. We really want to specialize. We noticed that in races like the BinckBank Tour, things were going pretty well for me. It’s close to my style, in terms of positioning and short, repeated efforts. I really wanted to choose an area to lean towards and to work on. I also think it’s important from a motivational point of view to know where you want to go. With the team, we know exactly where we are heading. I already learned a lot last year doing the Classics for the first time, and I want to continue working for that purpose.

“I want to remain versatile”

Have you always been interested in the Classics?

Being from Luxembourg, I raced a lot in Belgium when I was younger. I have a bit of that culture, and that habit of narrow roads. Already as a U23, the Ronde van Vlaanderen was a big goal for me every year. I even finished twice in the top-10. I had a lot of fun in these races and knew they could suit me. We spoke about it very early with Julien when I came on the team. At the beginning, you race the French Cup’s rounds, you see a bit of everything, but if you want to go further in your career, you must also set yourself a long-term goal. That’s what we did.

Do you think you now have better identified your profile as a rider?

I think so, and my first two years have been very useful in that regard. We noticed that I could climb, but not well enough to do really great things. I can time trial, but I’m not a pure specialist either. Then, there are the punchers’ races, which suit my qualities. The Classics are a long-term goal, but I’m also interested in a lot of other races. For example, the one-week stage races, where I can have the opportunity to go for the overall if I don’t waste too much time in the time trial. More generally, all races are worth taking. I also like to be there to help, to be a super domestique. I want to remain versatile while focusing more on the Classics. At the moment, we’re talking about the cobbled ones, but I would also like to try one or two Ardennes Classics in the future.

What skills do you still need to improve?

My Maximum Aerobic Power and lactate threshold’s values. I work on that lot in training. Julien also makes me work a lot on my sprint. I’m not a sprinter, but it’s still very important to have that little kick when you fight for the win or for a good place within a small group. I also work a lot on the time trial, especially since I joined the team. We have seen great progress. For the moment, I manage to achieve top-30 in WorldTour races and I continue to work to do even better. It will come with time. Anyway, I do not intend to leave it aside.

“We cannot take it easy”

Classics also require ability for positioning…

It’s something I like. Many riders either hate it or are afraid of it. For them, it is horrible. Not for me, maybe because I’ve been rather successful with it so far. Positioning on these races is 50% of the job, and I’m doing well enough in that area. Being tall, a little bigger, also helps. That being said, I’m still pretty thin and I slowly try to bulk a little. Every year I gain a kilogram or two of muscle. I now weigh 3-4 kilos more than when I turned pro.

For the Classics, a group was created last year to support Stefan.

It’s the team’s will and I think it’s a great thing. Besides, we get along really well. We have already met in Fréjus in a more personal setting. Not only does the team have the will to build a group, but WE also really want to act as a team. We are completely connected. Obviously, having a super competitive and well-established group doesn’t happen overnight, but it will come with time.

What kind of leader is Stefan?

Stefan is a leader that works very, very hard, which also motivates you to work very hard. The nightmare for us would be to wait for him in the team’s bus while he’s contesting a race’s final. That’s also why we work hard: to be there for him. We know that he will have nothing to feel guilty about. So we don’t want to have anything to feel guilty about either. We know he asks a lot of himself, so we cannot take it easy. Personally, I learn a lot from him. Stefan has a lot of experience and he shares it with us. This is something very important in the Classics, because you have to know where to position, when to relax. It’s very technical. It comes with time and I’m starting to assimilate it quite well.

“There is always another step to make”

What role do you hope to have in the Classics?

I would like to be in the final of the races, even if I don’t go for the win, just for the experience of it. This happened to me a few times last year with Stefan, and these are really exciting moments. I want to experience them again, and that’s what motivates on a daily basis. I want to be in this group of 20-30 guys that are fighting for victory. I even want to be there several times and show that the team can count on me. It’s also a plus to have multiple cards in the end. Our goal is to be in that group, and that’s what we work for.

Apart from the Classics, have you set any other goals?

During the season, I will do several rounds of the French Cup and the ultimate goal is to win a race. I know that if I’m in good shape I can go for the win. For sure I will have a few opportunities, I’ve always had actually. Even as a neo-pro, the team showed me confidence.

What do you expect from your third season with the team?

It could be my first full season after two special first years. Anyway, for me the most important thing is always to keep improving. If you do improve, the results will come naturally. I also hope to do my first Grand Tour. This was planned last year, but with the new calendar we had to make a choice with the Classics. I hope this will be the year. I think a Grand Tour will also enable me to pass a milestone, especially for next year’s Classics. I already tried something new with the altitude camp. Next on the list is a Grand Tour. It’s also nice to see that there is always a new step to make, new possibilities, which allow you to improve and do something else.

You were the first rider from the “Conti” to join the WorldTeam in 2019. There are now six of you in the squad. What do you think about it?

I still find that very impressive when you consider that the Conti was created only two years ago. It’s not that old. Slowly, we see the riders of the Conti manage to find their way and their place in the WorldTeam. It’s a little pride to have started that process. More and more, the Conti’s soigneurs, mechanics or coaches sometimes come to join the WorldTeam, and it’s nice to see them again. We see that everyone is evolving. Last year, we also did the interviews in Besançon and I felt like I was coming home. Many say the team is a family but it gets clearer and clearer. Actually, the Conti and the WorldTeam are not two different teams, but the same one.

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