The 28-year-old sprinter looks back on his first year with Quick-Step Floors and the excellent start of the season he's had in 2017.
I'm very proud of my first year with Quick-Step Floors, it went really great! I didn't even know how it would be within the team and how I would do in 2016, so in every way it was like your first school day, excitement and nervousness combined. Once I met the boys in the first team camp I knew I will feel comfortable in this squad. It was my goal to get back to my best as fast as I could and also to show what I can do. But after such a difficult period you're not always as confident as you were the year before, when everything was going well for me.
So this was the big challenge for me, to really believe in it, to keep all the doubts away and really go for it. And of course you really need strong support for it and I'm so happy that I got it from this team and with this it was also important for me that I was able to show who I am and what I can do. That gives you so much confidence that you really start to think again: "I'm now on my way back with the best possible support I could get". That makes yourself really ambitious again. I can say now after one year with the team that I'm really on that same mindset I was when I was really going for it, in that sort of flow, in that usual feeling that you get when you have normal seasons.
It was the first time in my professional career that I changed teams, with completely new people around me. The only people I knew were Tony Martin and two mechanics, for the rest everyone was totally new to me. That was another aspect I had to deal with, as suddenly you meet all this people in person and you see that this is one big family with all the best interests as priority, so yes, I changed teams and am in a different environment, but surrounded by people who all have the same ambition and think the same like me; once I realised that it gave me the confidence I needed and made me feel more secure.
In this team it's an atmosphere which is great and you really get along with everyone here. I mostly share rooms with Bob Jungels, he's a great guy and it's nice because we speak the same language. But I think in our team it's never a problem if you have to share a room with someone else for example, that's the quality of a good team, to have such a fantastic team spirit and atmosphere. You really don't even mind who's around, who's with you in the race and who's not. I'm happy I took that leap of faith and I'm more proud of being part of this fantastic team.
It's actually nice to be part of Tom Boonen's final season. He's a legend, but besides that he's most of all a great guy. He's very ambitious and it's also very motivating to see how Tom is like in the December camp, really going all the way till the end full gas; I get to see and experience this from the front row which is a privilege!
He is dedicated to his job, very focused and not only for this, but he's a real role model for the young kids not only in the world but for sure also in our team. A lot of young guys here look up to him.
I just like the Dubai Tour because obviously it's a very nice sprinters' race. The atmosphere here is also great, we stay in the same hotel every day, with the same start which is in walking distance, so I think the organization does a very good job here making it as comfortable as possible for the riders.
Every year that I came here I got to know a few people who live here so that's also very nice to see them every time. Dubai is a great place where you have everything: good weather, sun, desert and sea.
And, of course, Dubai has been great for me and the team with the second straight overall win. Last year it was my first victory for Quick-Step Floors, so that was very special, as it meant a lot to me coming back from where I was. I'm very happy with the whole team performance, we were the dominant outfit in this race, taking three stages and two jerseys in the process, and I really like that. It's a perfect start to the season!
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele