During the Classic Brugge-De Panne, we saw a sight that hadn’t been seen for several years: Julien Vermote pulling a peloton in a major race.
The Belgian was one of the most recognizable figures of the 2017 Tour de France controlling the breakaways day after day and helping Marcel Kittel to five stage victories. But his career never reached the same heights.
There were a few glimpses during his two-year stint at Dimension Data alongside Mark Cavendish, but his move to Cofidis during the pandemic season didn’t pan out, and he found himself without a contract and without a team for most of 2021. Eventually in April he received a lifeline from Alpecin-Fenix but he didn’t end up racing for them as toxoplasmosis struck and he suffered a completely wasted year .
Although he did not race, Vermote was offered a contract extension by Alpecin-Fenix as well as time to prepare for the 2022 season. With some leg jerks at the start of the season, he began to play an important role again at De Panne, turning up front for much of the day and reaping the rewards, as team-mate Tim Merlier sprinted to victory.
“It’s been a long year. I’m just happy to be back,” Vermote told Cyclingnews during the Classic Brugge-De Panne.
“It feels really good to be in the peloton. You feel more relaxed again. And being in Flanders is nice, it feels like coming home.
“I feel good. I definitely missed a bit of race pace at the start but it’s going well and improving. It’s nice to feel this progression.
Vermote wanted to pay tribute to the management of Alpecin-Fenix, which not only got him out of unemployment, but supported him during a long illness.
“They supported me last year and gave me the confidence to stay in the team. It was really important in this process,” he said.
“Toxoplasmosis was really bad for me, it really hurt me. I was really tired for months, actually. I tried to restart several times but never felt good. The team has appealed at the end of August to rest and then go back into the winter a little earlier than usual to be ready for this year. I’m sure it was a very good decision. Hats off to the team for doing it.
Vermote’s spring schedule is currently up in the air. Alpecin-Fenix, led by Mathieu van der Poel, has a strong squad for the Cobbled Classics, but illness has swept through the peloton and the Belgian squad have not been spared. After his race in De Panne, Vermote may well force himself to participate in even bigger races.
“I feel healthy but my level is not yet what it can be. I still need more time to reach the highest level, but it is enough to have some value”, Vermote said.
“It’s already a victory to be here but I don’t want to be here just to be here. I want to show my value to the team. Of course, I’m happy to be here, but I want more.