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A provincial title in 2003 inspires to aim higher

In 2003 Thomas Degand won the championships of Hainaut in the streets of Saint-Maur, a victory which is seen as the first big win by the historical members of the structure.

“Thomas Degand rode incredibly well. He managed to beat the main favorite Jérémy Delvaux, the Belgian champion in the U17 category who won all races and joined our team later. He was accompanied in the breakaway by two of our riders: Damien Timmermans and Thomas Degand. They attacked each in turn until he had to let them go. Thomas continued alone. It is our first important memory and big win fort he team. The three of us were there. Yves was mechanic, Jean-François was on the side of the road…”

The ambition of VC Ath grew. They hoped to participate to more interclub and bigger races.

“I knew Alain Lapierre well, the organisator of the Tour de Namur. So we were invited in 2002, even though we didn’t have the manpower to achieve results. But this participation accelerated the growth of our project. After the race we had a drink in a café in Jambes. Jean-François told us that he wanted a strong team the next season to race on a higher level. He wanted to participate in the Topcompetition. I told him he was crazy! To participate we needed very good riders and a bigger budget to attract them and to support them. He answered: ‘don’t worry, I’ll take care of the budget’. Like he always did.”

The engine of Storez-VC Ath got going and the staff was extended. The team also had more resources at its disposal. Results confirmed the progress. Kevyn Ista, who’d turn pro later, offered the team a first victory in the Topcompetition with his win in the Zesbergenprijs in Harelbeke.

“I still remember that I was jumping up and down when I realized that our rider was on his way to victory. I was so happy and excited that the radio I was using to listen to radio tour slipped through my hands… This victory meant so much for us, because Kevyn won the sprint with three bike lengths advantage, defeating riders with international stature. I still know that I was thinking: wow, we’ve got something! And this was confirmed later, with many more victories in the most prestigious races in this category.”

The club worked with several categories of riders for a long time, but eventually the conclusion was made to focus on one age category. Team Storez-Vélo Club d’Ath became a reference team in the U23 category in only a couple of years time.

“It was a great time. I remember the Tour of Liège for example. We won a stage with Gregory Habeaux, who finished second in the final classification. After the race I was washing the bikes together with Jean-François. I remember that we were saying to each other: ‘you really have to be truly passionated to do this…’ and afterwards we went for a drink. It was a nice time with a lot of fun. In a good atmosphere.”

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