Arnaud De Lie celebrates his win at Ronde van Limburg. (Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos)

The new kid on the block: getting to know Arnaud De Lie

Six wins from 28 race days is a pretty impressive ratio – especially when you're just 20 years old and a first year pro.

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Every once in a while you come across a rider with an arresting set of statistics following their name. Such is the case with Arnaud De Lie, 20 years old and a first-year professional with Lotto-Soudal.

He won on the third day of his new job, and has added five wins to that tally since that day on Mallorca at the end of January. With 28 race days so far, this is a win ratio of 21% for the young Belgian. Almost single-handedly De Lie is raking up the points Lotto-Soudal so desperately needs to stay in the WorldTour. 

That’s not the only value that De Lie brings to his team. The national Belgian lottery is one of Lotto-Soudal’s title sponsors, operating in the two parts of Belgium – Flanders and Wallonia – and De Lie, from Wallonia, is an important step toward equal representation. Not many Belgian pros are from Wallonia – the most famous is De Lie’s Lotto-Soudal teammate Philippe Gilbert, who retires this season after two decades in the pro peloton.

“I am proud to be from Wallonia,” De Lie said on the eve of the Baloise Belgium Tour. “I haven’t won in Wallonia yet because my [ideal route] profile is more that of a Flandrien. The Mur de Huy or La Redoute are way too hard for me. My dream races are Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.”

Those are both races that Philippe Gilbert has won during his career, but he has won in Wallonia too. But although De Lie struggles on the steep climbs of the Ardennes where they both are from, he has long considered Gilbert an idol. Not only now, but also ten years ago when it all started.

“I won’t say that it’s only because of Phil that I started cycling because I already did mountain biking [ed. De Lie won the Roc d’Azur mountain bike race five times as a teen] but he inspired me to try road racing. Flèche Wallonne 2011 [won by Gilbert] was the first professional bike race I saw. His streak in the Ardennes that year was inspiring to watch. Now we are roomies during the races so that’s kind of cool. And crazy!,“ he says with a twinkle in his eye.

De Lie didn’t expect his career as a WorldTour professional would kick off at such a high pace, let alone at the side of his idol Gilbert.

“It is a dream for sure. I never thought I would do what I did this year already,” De Lie enthuses. “Winning on my third day of the season was already incredible. Then one month later I win again [GP Monseré]. What happens now is just great. As a young rider I won already a lot, but every victory is different. Every victory motivates me even more.”

De Lie won two races with the support of Philippe Gilbert. In Ronde van Limburg and the Volta Limburg Classic Gilbert played a key role as domestique to the young sprinter who is almost half his age. 

De Lie and Philippe Gilbert at Circuit de Wallonie 2022. (Photo: Tim van Wichelen/Cor Vos)

“During the races he gives me advice. His list of victories is impressive. He has such a wealth of experience and knows when I should go full gas and when not, for example,” De Lie explains. “I won two races with him by my side and in these cases, he worked for me 100%. If your idol does that, it’s a bit surreal and also awesome.”

Despite his fast rise through the ranks of the pro peloton the team doesn’t put too much pressure on the 20-year-old rider. He himself sees a learning opportunity in every race. For De Lie, having fun in his job is paramount. He wants to take his time. The team lets him.

“This year I discover my limits. After sprinting against Mark Cavendish [at Heistse Pijl, won by De Lie], I was dead,” he laughs. “This year and the next years are all about building experience to become a factor in the bigger races. There is now room to make errors because I am only 20 years old. Every race offers great opportunities to learn. I do that with great joy because there is always next year to take these experiences with me and race again.”

As a young rider De Lie was already a prolific winner, and he continued that streak as a junior. In his first year as a junior he won the Belgian road race title. The year after he won La Philippe Gilbert Juniors. The second and last stage to La Redoute was the hardest experience of his junior years, he says.

Lotto-Soudal’s Development Team was quick to pick up the rider from Libramont, almost on the border with Luxembourg and France in the far southeast of Belgium. The team led by former pro Kurt Van De Wouwer is a talent factory for the Lotto-Soudal WorldTour team. 

Ten of De Lie’s current teammates all started their career in the U23 team: Florian Vermeersch, Brent Van Moer, Frederik Frison, Steff Cras, Harm Vanhoucke, Harry Sweeny, Xandres Vervloesem, Maxim Van Gils, Sébastien Grignard and Viktor Verschaeve. The new generation is already preparing for a future as pro cyclists.

“I don’t know what the secret of the Lotto-Soudal Development Team is,” says De Lie. “When riding there we don’t experience the pressure and they leave us with a lot of freedom in our races. You see it with Lennert Van Eetvelt who does really well in Baby Giro right now. So many of the riders are now on the WorldTour team. It shows the project works.”

After winning six one-day races already this season De Lie now starts the five-day Baloise Belgium Tour hoping to add a few more victories. The focus will be on the first two stages: Beveren-Maarkedal with the profile of a Belgian Spring classic and stage two to Knokke-Heist where the finish is at the uphill kick called De Wandelaar. De Lie looks forward to sprinting against Fabio Jakobsen.

“I have raced against Jakobsen but not won. I did beat Tim Merlier and Cavendish but Fabio is one of the fastest in the peloton. I look forward to doing a real bunch sprint against him. That will give me a good idea where I stand. I focus on the first two stages because the Ardennes are way too difficult for me.”

De Lie and Jakobsen sprint for minor placings at the 2022 Scheldeprijs. Alexander Kristoff soloed to the win from a big breakaway group, while the sprinters thundered home three minutes later. (Photo: Gregory van Gansen/PN/Cor Vos © 2022)

De Lie likes the sprinting game, and has since he was a young boy beating kids four or five years his senior at his local club CC Chévigny. Like all sprinters he is fearless and seems to find his way through the bunch with relative ease.

“I am never afraid in races because adrenalin is always surging when you see the final. You have to be fearless, but that is of course a bit different to the prospect of my parents who watch on tv,” he smiles shyly. “I hope they can come and watch me in the fourth stage in Tour of Belgium but then I will be safe and riding in the grupetto,” he laughs.

But before he takes his place in the grupetto during stage four of the Tour of Belgium on a tough circuit around Durbuy, he is the leader of the team.

“I had to learn to be a leader fast because I have this success already. It doesn’t come natural to me for to tell riders with so much more experience to work for me but now, when we have a sprint, I am honest in saying if I feel good or not,” De Lie explains. “Together we can aim for the best result. It happens more and more I am the leader and then it’s nice to have these great riders ride for me.”

The sudden surge in media attention or his new status in his team and the peloton doesn’t seem to get to him. He is humble in his manners and polite in his words. 

“I cope well with all the media attention. I don’t mind being in the spotlight. My family will always remind me to keep my two feet on the ground,” he smiles. “They didn’t have to do [that] because I am not like that at all. It’s not my nature to be big-headed.”

De Lie at an early season training camp in Altea, Spain. (Photo: Jan de Meuleneir/PN/Cor Vos)

The upbringing of De Lie is a modest one. His parents have a dairy farm where De Lie worked as a child and still helps his father out as often as his training, racing and resting permits.

“I like working at the farm. I don’t have to wake up at 5am though. My dad let me sleep in until 7am today. That was luxurious,” he smiles. “I like helping milking the cows. It takes the mind off cycling and is a great way to relax. If I weren’t a pro cyclist, I would be a farmer like my dad. I grew up on the farm and lived here all my life.”

With six wins already De Lie’s season is a successful one – but being the ambitious rider he is, there is more to wish for. 

“The main goal is always to have fun in the moment in my career. This year I have a few specific goals as well. Last year the U23 World Championships in Belgium were a huge deception for me [De Lie crashed out of the race]. I hope to race in Wollongong in the U23 category. I also have the Belgian [elite] championships as a goal but my season is not ruined if I don’t become Belgian champion,” he says realistically.

De Lie nabs the win at the Grote Prijs Jean-Pierre Monseré. (Photo: Tim van Wichelen/Cor Vos)

De Lie is not the only sprinter on the Lotto-Soudal team. Caleb Ewan recently signed a new contract with the Belgian team until 2024. De Lie is pretty clear that he won’t contest the number one spot as the sprinter on the team in the Tour de France any time soon. 

He’s taking his time with his career, and – being only three months past his 20th birthday – why should he not? That’s why you will most likely find him roadside this Tour de France supporting his teammates in the sixth stage to Longwy, only 40 kilometres from his home.

“Caleb is still our number one sprinter because he proved many times he can do this at the highest level. I don’t see myself taking his place in the Tour de France team just yet. I am still only 20 years and will be 21 during next year’s Tour. It’s still a bit too early,” he says pragmatically.

“You need to be mentally and physically ready for the Tour. People outside the sport know only the Tour de France but there is the Giro too. I would like to do that first. For the Tour de France you need to be 100% ready. And I am not, yet.”

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