(Montreal) Nickolas Zukowsky will not yet be at the top of his game when he starts his first Tour of Flanders on Sunday, except that it will not taint his happiness to find himself in the peloton of the 107e edition of what is the second monument of the season in road cycling.
After three seasons with the American team Human Powered Health, the athlete migrated to the brand new Swiss team Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team. The native of Sainte-Lucie-des-Laurentides therefore remains in a Pro Team level formation, but being part of a European team opens more doors to events on this continent than when he wore the colors of that continent. based in the United States.
When we hear him talk about the Classics, we note that the tone of his voice becomes more cheerful, even though, at the time of the interview last Friday, he had just spent five hours on the bike at the E3 Saxo Classic in the Belgian rain and cold.
A way for him to take the temperature of the water for the first time, both literally and figuratively, on the cobblestones and Belgian bergs.
“I’m lucky enough to do all those big races. It’s completely crazy and compared to other riders, I haven’t been cycling (road) for so long. I didn’t watch the Tour de France when I was young, but since I started the sport, I watch the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and I dream a bit of doing them. And there it is coming! »
Zukowsky’s start to the season has been put on hold due to a virus contracted after his stint in the Tour of Saudi Arabia. Consequently, he spent the month of February stationary, when he should have accumulated dozens of hours in the saddle. Blood test results indicated his body was fighting a virus, but doctors were unable to identify it.
“It really put me on the tile for two weeks. I was completely down and coming back from that is a nasty process. I am pampered, my team is very professional and they supervise me very well. »
Because there was the trap for the 24-year-old runner: to rush his return to racing in order to prove himself in the eyes of his new employers, but with the risk of falling ill again if he gives too much and too quickly. In a sport where the season runs from January to October, some caution is in order.
However, this did not prevent the athlete from being part of the river breakaway of the race Through Flanders on Wednesday. He ended up being knocked out of the group after holding on for a hundred kilometres.
“My philosophy is that just because I don’t feel my best doesn’t mean I can’t give my best all day. […] It’s never fun to be the highlight. You don’t want to be the hammer anymore in situations like this. And these days, I’m more the highlight every day. »
The best ally
Probably the best person to understand what it is to be a nail is his girlfriend Simone Boilard, a professional cyclist who has also had her share of health problems over the years.
The rider of the French formation St-Michel – Mavic-Auber93 had won bronze in the road race of the 2018 Junior World Championships only to see her sports career put on hold following a succession of health problems. . Her return to the professional peloton last year went well and, even if she could have been promoted to World Team level, she made the choice to stay in her continental level team in order not to skip the stages.
Zukowsky is in awe when asked to talk about what his wife has overcome.
“We are so lucky to have each other! We are far from the family and friends we have in Quebec. It’s not always easy, but being together is so much more, he says. She, she definitely had it harder in her young career and I helped her as best I could. These days, it was less easy (for me) and she was there to help me. I consider myself extremely lucky! »
The model student
About ten years old, Zukowsky first learned his cycling skills on mountain bike trails. His former coach at the Club des 2 Vals, Serge Desrosiers, supervised him at the turn of the 2010s in the Laurentians.
“Nick was a model student. He put a lot of emphasis on the process and on his personal progress, much more than on the results”, recalls the man who was at the head of the Quebec mountain bike team until last summer and who is not surprised to see that his former protege will be at the start of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
“Athletes with a good attitude are able to handle things better and do them for the right reasons. […] Nickolas has always had his feet on the ground. All the time. He was attentive and analytical. Being an athlete is a whole thing: you need talent, a head, attitude, perseverance and resilience. And Nick, he was always resilient and patient. »
To stay in the school theme, the races of the next two weeks are announced more like courses rather than exams for Nickolas Zukowsky. He will have to learn to position himself well in the peloton before the key sectors, withstand the violent efforts on the climbs where the grip is not optimal and drive at high speed in a relaxed manner on the cobblestones.
The cyclist is well aware of this.
“It’s such an important experience for years to come. »