Nathan Van Hooydonck has credited his girlfriend Alicia Cara for supporting him after the loss of their newborn son Thiago at the end of 2021.
The Belgian shared the tragic news on Instagram about the death of Thiago on December 28. The family held a funeral for Thiago three days later on New Year's Eve, before Van Hooydonck got back on his bike and cycled for four hours a day later.
Speaking about it publicly for the first time, he claimed he got a lot of satisfaction from that bike ride, which helped him join up with Jumbo-Visma at their training camp in Spain to prepare for the new season. However, he acknowledged Alicia's pivotal role in helping him get to the camp.
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Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Van Hooydonck said: "It's thanks to Alicia that I'm here.
"Alicia was much stronger than me in everything that happened. She pulled me through. I had a hard time when she was better and vice versa. So we could always support each other very well. The fact that I am here today and can resume my preparation in Spain is one hundred percent thanks to her.
"It was Alicia who said, 'Just go there because I think it will be good for you. If you're tired of it after three days, just come home.' And she was right because I'm very happy to be here."
Riding alongside his Jumbo-Visma teammates is helping Van Hooydonck to focus on something else at the moment, with the Dutch team supporting him as best they can, he said. However, he is still grieving his son, so has the option to return home to his girlfriend if necessary.
"The camp in Spain creates a lot of distraction. We have a few fools here in the team who keep the atmosphere in it and then you can change your mind a bit, but laughing exuberantly is not there yet and that will not be for soon.
“Clear agreements have been made that if I have a bad day, I would indicate this in good time. I may be home in a few days because it is not going well, but the team is also supporting me. They are fantastic.
He spoke about the impact losing his son has had on him.
"I constantly think about the loss. Some days are better than others, but when I leave for training in our village for example and see a pram, my heart breaks into a thousand pieces."
While Van Hooydonck still has ambitions to perform to the high standard that saw him finish seventh at Gent–Wevelgem last year, he understands performing to his best is all that matters right now.
"Last year I was able to ride a final and I want to repeat that. Getting a result in the Ronde [Tour of Flanders] or [Paris] Roubaix is not easy, but I still believe in it. And I also want to be able to win with the team. I can play a crucial role in that.
"I'll try to throw myself in 100 percent, but if it's less, I'll settle into a different role.
"As long as I do my best, I can't blame myself. And I don't care much about what others think."
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