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Ben Hermans doesn’t win many races, so his victory in Wednesday’s hilltop finish at the Tour of Oman was a big surprise. Or was it? In this opening story in a pelotonmagazine.com series that will look at riders who rarely make the headlines, Hermans is a perfect subject. At age 30 and now in his ninth season as a pro, the Belgian has won only six times, and half of those successes came in a four-month span of 2015—and he hadn’t won another individual race until Wednesday.
Words: John Wilcockson | Image: Yuzuru Sunada
At just over 6-foot-1 and 168 pounds, Hermans isn’t considered to be a pure climber, but all of his wins have been in hilly races, with three of them finishing on summits. No, his main virtue is rising as a deputy to team leaders—they include his current BMC Racing leader Greg Van Avermaet; Philippe Gilbert, in his past three seasons with the American-based team; and, in four seasons previous to that, leaders such as Chris Horner, Cadel Evans and Tiago Machado at Team RadioShack.
Ben Hermans comes from eastern Belgium, where he grew up near the city of Hasselt, which is not too far from the Dutch hills of Limburg and the Belgian climbs in the Ardennes. Unlike Belgian racers who come from Flanders in western Belgium, Hermans didn’t completely dedicate his teen years to cycling. He remained a part-time amateur racer while earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences before turning pro at age 22 with the second-tier Belgian squad Topsport Vlaanderen in 2009.
Hermans soon showed himself as a budding climber in his rookie season with a 14th place at his first classic, La Flèche Wallonne, and a second place in a summit stage finish at Spain’s Tour of Burgos—just behind Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez and just ahead of Alejandro Valverde. Those performances were good enough to earn Hermans a place on a UCI WorldTour team, the newly formed RadioShack, in 2010. His first pro victory came in May that year when he won the toughest stage of the Baloise Belgium Tour, a hilly 173.7-kilometer loop through the Ardennes at Herstal, where he out-sprinted breakaway companion Stijn Devolder, 48 seconds ahead of a seven-man chase group led home by Gilbert.
Highlights from Ben Hermans’ win on Stage Two in Oman (courtesy ASO).
In 2011, Hermans picked up his second win, at the early-season Trofeo Inca in Mallorca. And his trio of victories in 2015 all came in late solo attacks: at the Belgian semi-classic La Flèche Brabançonne (two seconds clear of a 14-man chase group led in by Michael Matthews and Hermans’ BMC teammate Gilbert); the final stage of England’s Tour of Yorkshire into Leeds (nine seconds ahead of a 17-man chase led in by teammate Van Avermaet); and a hilltop finish at the Arctic Race of Norway at Målselv (three seconds clear of eventual overall winner Rein Taaramäe).
Hermans’ career has often been interrupted by injuries, including two broken toes in 2010, hip problems and a broken rib in 2012 and two fractured vertebrae in 2015.
Surprisingly, he has yet to compete at the Tour de France, though he has done well in his two appearances at the Giro d’Italia (2012 and 2014) and Vuelta a España (2013 and 2016). The tall Belgian helped Horner in his victorious 2013 Vuelta, assisted Evans in his eighth-place finish at the 2014 Giro, and last year took 14th overall in a very hard edition of the Vuelta.
Perhaps, after his excellent start to 2017—second overall to Nairo Quintana in last week’s Valencia Tour and now leader of the Tour of Oman—Hermans will finally make it to the Tour.