Inside Van Rysel – the brand new stylish biking model propelling a Tour workforce to success

Just to the east of Lille, where the towns and cities that kiss the Belgian border fade into the Flemish countryside, sit an inconspicuous block of showers.

At first glance, there isn’t anything special about them – they’re concrete and brutalist, almost Soviet. They’re not warm either; the pipes that pump in the freezing cold water are covered in rust and look to have their best years behind them.

And yet, for one weekend each year, these showers – and the equally weathered velodrome just across the road – are almost cycling’s version of the holy land.

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In this block of showers, kings are crowned and immortalised as winners of Paris-Roubaix – once coined as the Hell of the North. It’s a funny old sport, cycling – it’s tip-toeing into the future but one that remains steeped in history and moored into the past.

It’s why this block of showers – which in just about any other sport would have been long since forgotten – remains so iconic. Cyclists are kings here, where bike racing isn’t just the most popular sport – it’s almost a religion.

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Paris-Roubaix showers
The showers at the end of Paris-Roubaix are one of the most iconic spots in cycling

It’s in this small corner of the world where Van Rysel – cycling’s new kids on the block were founded. Van Rysel dips into Flemish culture unlike any other brand – it literally translates to “From Lille” in English.

“We’re located in Lille, close to the famous cobblestones,” Nicolas Pierron, Van Rysel’s CEO, told Daily Star Sport last month. This brand is very important because it truly means something…we’re a young brand, but we have big ambitions to reach the top in five years.”

Birthed in 2018, Van Rysel, on the eve of the Tour de France, are the talk of the professional peloton.

Nicolas Pierron
Nicolas Pierron has high hopes for Van Rysel

For the first time in their short history, Van Rysel are providing bikes to a Pro Tour team: Decathlon–AG2R La Mondiale. AG2R are no newcomers to the peloton – but they’ve been the shock of the season so far.

Ben O’Connor took a stage in the UAE Tour, Benoît Cosnefroy struck gold in De Brabantse Pijl, while Valentin Paret-Peintre and Andrea Vendrame doubled up in last month’s Giro d’Italia.

The latter of which took place as Daily Star Sport were invited to Lille to tour the Van Rysel HQ. Van Rysel want to be one of the biggest brands in cycling – and it’s hard to disagree.

Van Rysel
Van Rysel are located in Lille, close to the famous cobblestones

Their headquarters, located in the sprawling B’twin Village, is a treasure trove for sports lovers. In another life, it was an aerodrome – used for its strategic location between France and Germany before it was transformed into a tobacco factory.

Decathlon purchased the site in 2008, while Van Rysel set up shop in 2018.

It was here they developed the bike that has been taking the peloton by storm – the RCR Pro. Daily Star Sport was shown the various stages of development, including a 3D printer where models could then be taken for wind testing.

B'twin Village
Daily Star Sport were given a tour of the B’twin Village

Van Rysel were about to stumble into a huge dose of luck when they discovered they had a wind tunnel across the road – speeding up the process of development.

It took two years to perfect the bike that fans and pundits turned their noses up at, back in January – they were quickly silenced. O’Connor set the standard by winning the Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia “Costa Calida” – a warm-up race on the sun-kissed island of Mallorca.

O’Connor and Cosnefroy are the two stars of AG2R’s squad – and their results this season prove it. Veteran sprinter Sam Bennett has also stamped his authority on the team by winning four stages, and the overall, of the 4 Jours de Dunkerque.

Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale
Van Rysel now provide bikes for Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale

However, their biggest two results have come in Italy at the Giro d’Italia – a sort of cousin to the Tour de France. On Stage 10, Paret-Peintre took flight up the fearsome Bocca della Selva; the rest of the pack wouldn’t see him again until they crossed the line.

The following week – as Daily Star Sport were in Lille – Vendrame battled the elements as he went solo with 30km left in the pouring rain on the roads to Sappada.

The Tour de France is next on the cards, and Van Rysel will be hoping AG2R can do something quite special on home roads.

Valentin Paret-Peintre
Valentin Paret-Peintre took the biggest win of his career last month

Road racing isn’t the only feather in Van Rysel’s cap – they’ve positioned themselves as an affordable brand in a sport that can cost you a pretty penny.

In April, Van Rysel launched its first concept store in Decathlon’s Surrey Quays, London, store. Custom-built to showcase their products, it’s a stepping stone to their goal of reaching the top of the sport.

It’s all very impressive: the factory, the culture, the vision. And who’s to say in five years’ time they won’t be where they aim to be.