Two profound minutes with new dad Victor Campenaerts

From an altitude-camp labor for his 'hero' girlfriend to the Tour de France, Campenaert's fatherhood journey.

Victor Campenaerts with his partner and new born son at the start of stage 8.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 08.07.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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To set the scene: stage 8 of the Tour de France has just finished, with Biniam Girmay claiming a second emphatic stage win. Safely tucked away in 133rd position is Belgian rider Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Dstny), who makes his way through the scrum of journalists looking for the quick reaction from the stage winner, the various holders of the leader’s jerseys, the animators of the day. The scene is green and grey – a big hill topped with a forest, a monument to Charles de Gaulle poking through it, and the team buses arcing along a road through grassy fields around its side.

A few minutes later, Victor Campenaerts is on a trainer outside the Lotto bus, warming down. He’s made a good career for himself β€“ a national TT championship, a stint as the World Hour Record holder, a stage-win at the Giro d’Italia. At this point of his career, he’s perhaps best known for his breakaways: he was a key animator of the 2023 Tour de France, and won the Super Combativity Prize as the entire race’s most aggressive rider last year. There’s been a bit of that this year, but it was the time trial that he really made a mark on, beaten only by the Big Four GC riders.

A day after that rock-solid ride, Campenaerts faces in towards the bus, back to the crowd, turning his legs over. He’s not dead-eyed and staring at nothing as riders often are after a stage, but looking around, kinda taking it all in. In my observations of him, he’s often like this – approachable, filled with a natural curiosity, quick to a smile. I’ve not spoken to him before but he seems nice, so in that spirit I lean in over the retractable rope and ask for a bit of his time. Two generous minutes later, after both of us have gotten a bit misty-eyed, he walks up the steps of the bus. Here’s the conversation in full.

Campenaerts waves as he rides off from the finish of stage 7, after spending a good amount of time in the hot-seat.

Iain Treloar: Hey Victor, can we chat?

Victor Campenaerts: Of course, man! I’ve got two minutes left [on the trainer]. 

IT: Thanks – I’ll make it quick. So: this morning at the start it was not very nice β€“ very, very rainy and very shitty. And then I saw some pictures that made me smile, because you had a new child there!

VC: [proudly, beaming] Yeah! It’s my first child, this child.

IT: Congratulations. 

VC: Thank you so much! I can’t describe it. Yesterday I did a very good time trial, I came 5th. I think it’s part of the hormones in my body that go crazy.

IT: How old is he? 

VC: Just over three weeks. 

IT: Woah, that’s pretty fucking new. 

VC: [laughs] Indeed, indeed. 

IT: So how has the adjustment been? Have you had to be in full training mode?

VC: I have to say my girlfriend is the hero in this story. She gave birth to our son on an altitude training camp. 

IT: Like, you were with her over Zoom or Skype or something? 

VC: No, no, no, no… 

IT: She was at the altitude camp?!

VC: She was! We were nine weeks at altitude. And she was highly pregnant. And at the end – you know, the labor – I don’t know how you say it in English, but the labor started in the night; we drove down to the bottom of the climb …

IT: Where was this? 

VC: In the Sierra Nevada. Our child was born in Granada …

IT: Was he a little early, that he was born there? 

VC: No, it was all planned out. So again, my girlfriend is the hero in the story. She’s extremely flexible in this. We knew our son would be there before the Tour.

Campenaerts and family braving the rain pre-stage 8.

IT: Yeah, it’s better timing if he’s there before rather than during! 

VC: For sure, and if it would have been calculated that he would have been [born] during there’s no way I would’ve started the Tour. But like this, it was possible with the freedom of the team to not do DauphinΓ© or Suisse to prepare, so I could be there. And yeah, that’s how it went.

And now yesterday, they left in the morning after the (TT) recon – then they arrived at the race and he just crapped his diaper. And I said ‘it’s Daddy time’, I changed the diaper one and a half hours before the time trial, and it gave me wings. 

IT: That’s so good. How are you adjusting to Dad life? 

VC: [meaningful pause] It’s so easy. It comes natural. It gives me wings. It’s the best thing in my life – hour records or winning a Giro stage is incredible β€“ but when he squeezes my finger I directly forget about those things. 

He unclicks from the bike. As he starts to walk off, I quickly confirm some names – his partner (Nel), his son (Gustaaf) – and thank him for his time. “No problem, man,” he says with a smile, walking up the stairs of the bus. The curtain twitches closed behind him, and just like that, the doting new dad is gone.

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