Victor Campenaerts' 2023 preseason did not exactly go as planned. On March 18, he suffered a serious fall in Bredene-Koksijde. Examination at the Veurne hospital revealed a fracture of a vertebra. The big ambitions Victor expressed at the beginning of the season were immediately relegated to the wastepaper basket.

Winning a semi-classic in the spring would be out of the question in 2023 with an expected inactivity of six weeks. In early May, Victor indicated he would not be ready for the Tour de France. But after the excellent Critérium du Dauphiné, where he took ei so after the mountain jersey, he took off anyway. His enormous fighting spirit at the Tour can hardly have escaped you. Sometimes Tour boss Christian Prudhomme’s flag had barely dropped or Victor was already woofing, as he himself calls his efforts to get away. In the first stage in the Basque Country, he was the very first fugitive. Even before the official start, he was already in the lead. Many times he tried to be part of a, hopefully, decisive breakaway. But unfortunately he didn’t get any closer than a 10th place in the 12th stage from Roanne to Belleville-en-Beaujolais.

Rewarded with the ‘Super Combatif’

Fortunately, Victor’s warrior heart had not escaped even the eight-member international jury and the public. In stages 18 and 19, he had already been declared Combatif du jour. That meant he was allowed to start the next day with the beige jersey number with black numbers. Thanks to the votes of the jury and the public, he was awarded the “Super Combatif” in Paris. Voted the most combative rider of the entire race, while France crowd favorite Thibaut Pinot was riding his last Tour and we know how chauvinistic the French can be on that score. That earned Lotto-Dstny a total of €24,000 in prize money. Last year the title went to Wout van Aert.

A nice prize for Victor and Lotto-Dstny

We asked Victor about the how and why of winning the prize. “It’s very special to win this prize. But it was never really a goal to ride for it. It actually came more as a matter of course. Only in the last week of the race did it become an item in the team and we tried to attack as much as possible to get the prize. So I have to thank my teammates for that. We can look back with satisfaction despite the fact that we didn’t manage to win a stage. Also personally, this prize gives me a lot of satisfaction. My season didn’t go smoothly because of that bad crash and the subsequent rehabilitation. I started with the doubt whether I would be able to reach my best level. But this Tour reassured me on that point.”

A typical caprice of Campenaerts: the Col du Campi

Those who know Victor a bit know that he can always come up with something unexpected. That was also the case after the Tour de France around the time of the opening of the redesigned Market Square in his hometown of Gavere last September. He asked the municipality, somewhat jokingly, if he could place the “Col de Campi” sign in the renovated park in front of the town hall. He would then make a video of it with Arnaud De Lie – who is regularly his training partner – while they are “training” on the “col. ‘Campi,’ like ‘Vocsnor,’ by the way, is one of his nicknames. Mayor Denis Dierick and alderman Dirk Martens (sports, among other things) liked the idea and allowed it to go ahead. And it was a nice win-win for the opening of the Market.

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In search of the Col du Campi

Anyone entering Gavere from the bridge over the Scheldt through the Molenstraat awaits, as far as brewery Contreras, a 1,300-meter climb with an average gradient of 2.8%. But at the level of the redeveloped Market Square and the Town Hall, you have to defy a stretch of 7.2% for 100 meters. And the meter even reaches 8% for a short while. If you turn right at the Tourist Information Center, you can climb the Col du Campi. There you are – according to the sign – at an altitude of 2300 cm.

A permanent place in the village

We already know that Victor feels at home in Gavere. But with the col, which is close to his home on Molenstraat, he has now also given himself a permanent place in the village and he is proud of it. We noticed that he takes it seriously when he was busy maintaining the planting of “his mountain” with the necessary tools. When he leaves home for the Flemish Ardennes, he has to stand on his pedals to get to the top of his own col.

Still a nice ending to his season

After the Tour de France, at the end of a season that started so badly for him, he still managed to get two nice victories. He proved that he came out of the Tour in excellent shape. On August 19 he won the leaden Druivenkoers in Overijse. Victor went on the attack in the final with Norwegian Rasmus Tiller and after a hard-fought sprint with his former NTT Pro Cycling teammate, he took the win. His good form continued in the Škoda Tour Luxembourg. Victor won the 4th stage there, the 23.9km individual time trial on the gently sloping course around Pétange. On the Luxembourg roads, Victor Campenaerts was one second faster than American time trial champion Brandon McNulty.

Text: Rens Klaasse
Foto’s © Pauline Ballet / Luc Speybroeck

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