Liepiņš takes the WorldTour in fast stride

A new recruit for Trek-Segafredo this year, the Latvian boasts a quick sprint and has already shown top lead-out capabilities.

Meet Emils Liepiņš. He’s one of Trek-Segafredo’s new faces this year. At the start of the 2020 season, before the Covid-19 pandemic suspended the racing calendar, Emils piloted new teammate Matteo Moschetti to a double race victory in Challenge Mallorca, expertly launching the fast Italian to glory as his last lead-out man.

At 1.75 meters (5’7″) tall, he’s a pocket rocket that can hold his own in a bunch sprint and has the versatility to be competitive in hillier, harder races or slip into a lead-out role when the need arises.

In 2019 Emils caught the attention of Trek-Segafredo with an impressively consistent season with 26 top-10 results, five podiums, and a stage win in Settimana Internazionale Coppi y Bartali.

He’s had impressive years at the Pro Continental level, and this year the 27-year-old stepped up to the WorldTour, hoping to show his sprinting and lead-out capabilities and provide support in the Classics.

We sat down the always cheerful Latvian to find out how he started cycling and his role and goals for his first season with Trek-Segafredo.

Who introduced you to cycling, and what is your earliest cycling memory?

My mom took me to my first cycling training. My father, who had been an amateur cyclist himself, didn’t want me to pursue cycling because he thought it was too hard to make a living that way but my mother was strong-willed, and when I was six years old, she took me to a cycling club to have my first cycling lesson. Actually, my mom told me recently that when I was just two years old, she took me to a kids’ race in our hometown, and I won that race on a three-wheeled bike. I think she pushed me all the way to the line. That’s the story of how I won the very first bike race I took part in!

 After that, you started doing BMX. Tell us about that journey.

I did two years of BMX and became the kids’ BMX Latvian National Champion when I was seven years old. At that point, I was doing BMX and road cycling, but later I chose to focus 100% on the road simply because the nearest BMX track was too far from my home, and it was really expensive to continue doing that. So, I made the switch to road cycling and started riding for my local club. When I was 10 years old, I won all the races I took part in. There were around 15 races per season, and I won every single one. Things only started to get harder once I got to the Junior ranks.

Your journey to the WorldTour started in Latvia, where you rode for almost seven years in continental teams. What are your best memories from those years?

Alpha Baltic was my first Continental team in Under-23. I was a teenager at the time and not really training as a professional. But one day the President of the Latvian Cycling Federation told me I had a real talent, and if I started training properly, I could be in the WorldTour. That sparked a fire within me, and soon after I got my first top-three in a UCI race. In that season, my last in the Rietumu Banka team, I was also a stagiaire for Delko Marseille, and I scored 13 podiums in UCI races. Despite that success, I was without a contract for the following season until December, that’s when ONE Pro Cycling called me and gave me a great opportunity. At the time, they were one of the best Continental teams and had a good racing calendar. I’m so thankful that they believed in me because if that contract hadn’t come along, I would have stopped cycling.

It's my first year in the team, I'm not a big name, and I need to prove myself and get a result, but my number one job is to help Matteo, and I think I started well as he got two wins in our first races together earlier this year.

Emīls Liepins and Matteo Moschetti celebrate Matteo's win in the Trofeo Ses Salines Felanitx in January.

You had a breakthrough season in 2019 with Wallonie-Bruxelles. You had several top-10 results, five podiums, and your second win as a pro. Was that the best year of your career?

I think 2019 was my best season because I had a win and was consistent all year. Almost every race I did, I had a top-10 result. A lot of teams were interested after that. The feedback I got was that I wasn’t just fast, but I was stable, consistent. And this was a characteristic that appealed to many teams.

How did the opportunity to sign for Trek-Segafredo come about?

Trek-Segafredo was the first team that reached out to me. It was during the 2019 Tour de France. I was at a training camp in Andorra, and my agent called me. I was speechless – at first, I thought it was a prank. I took no time to decide to sign. Trek-Segafredo had been one of my dream teams since I was a kid. I was amazed when I saw Fabian (Cancellara) riding a Trek bike and winning all those races. Back in 2013 there was also a Latvian rider named Andžs Flaksis who rode for the Bontrager Cycling Team (currently Hagen Berman Axeon). I knew him, and when I saw his equipment, saw that everything was so high-end, I dreamed of one day riding on those Trek bikes.

Signing with Trek-Segafredo has also given me the opportunity to be teammates with Toms (Skujiņš), who is a good friend. We’ve known each other since we were kids and were often on the National Team together. In Girona, we sometimes train together as well as in Latvia when we’re both there.

What is your role in Trek-Segafredo, and what are your goals for the season?

At the start of the season, my role was to be the lead-out for Matteo (Moschetti). By principle, if he’s feeling good in the sprint stages, we go for him, if not, we can swap. If Matteo is not at a race, I’ll have my opportunities, and I hope I can make the most of them. It’s my first year in the team, I’m not a big name, and I need to prove myself and get a result, but my number one job is to help Matteo, and I think I started well as he got two wins in our first races together earlier this year. My goal is also to help some of our leaders in the Classics, and personally I would love to get a win in 2020. But to be honest, this year I’m not thinking about my results, but rather the team’s results.

Emils Liepins leads the team ahead of Ryan Mullen, Alex Kirsch, and Mads Pedersen.

You seem to have settled nicely in the team and played a crucial role in  Matteo Moschetti’s two victories in Challenge Mallorca. Was it a dream debut?

In the first race I was really stressed because I was the last lead-out guy. I was so nervous that I would make a mistake, so when Matteo won, I think I was even more happy than him with the victory. I felt an enormous weight lift off my shoulders because I did my job, and the Directors were happy with my performance. It was a real team victory, and this was a special feeling. Not just the rider who won stood in the spotlight, we truly felt like the whole team had won, together. In front of me I had two very experienced riders, Ryan and Jasper, who I trusted fully, and before the start of the race I had told Matteo: “Listen if something happens, stay on my wheel, I will bring you to the front but stay on my wheel!” I think that was the key, we all trusted each other, and we won because of it.

How do you define yourself as a rider? What are your biggest strengths?

I’m a fast guy, so definitely my sprint is one of my biggest strengths. Then, on top of that, I’m strong and can still be fast at the end of a hard race, such as the Belgian Classics. Some pure sprinters don’t like or cannot contest sprints after such tough races, but I feel like I can be competitive in those types of courses.

If you could borrow one skill or strength from any pro cyclist, past or present, what would it be and from whom?

It’s hard to name one rider, but I would like to be better on steeper climbs. I want to keep my sprint but improve on steeper, punchier climbs because sometimes, if it’s really steep, I blow up massively. I want to hold my power for a longer time and still be really fast when it matters.

The best day you ever had on a bike?

My first pro victory. It was in Belgium in 2018, a race called Market Heistse Pijl. I was on cloud nine. I was riding for ONE Pro Cycling, and the team did an amazing job. I got a great lead-out from Hayden McCormick. We split the bunch in the last cobbled climb, and I won from a select group. Actually, that day I felt sick during the entire race, but the team was working for me, and I just couldn’t let them down. After the victory we went to an Italian restaurant to celebrate, and when I came back to the hotel, I was running a fever of 40 degrees. It took me a month after that to fully recover and get back to racing.

Dream race?

My dream race is Paris-Roubaix, and If I ever find myself on that start-line, I will be pinching myself.

If you weren’t a cyclist, you would be …

A businessman or manager.

Emils Liepins and Quinn Simmons after the finish of Dwars door het Hageland.