Despite the professional swimming practices and competitions, the athlete’s first and true love was and is cycling. And this new passion overwrote his dream to become a zookeeper. So, he fashioned himself a new lifegoal at the tender age of 12, that of a professional cyclist. “It was my dream, but it didn’t seem attainable.” Nevertheless, he was basically glued to the television watching cycling tournaments whenever he could, and would later head out himself. Van Riel would retrace sections of the Tour of Flanders and ride the Alps.
But he “never really got into the competitive side of cycling, and that stayed more as a dream.” Thinking about it now, he knows it was best for his parents to bring all three children to swimming classes together instead of them following different paths. So, cycling remained a hobby – for now.
At 16 the teen simply got tired of just swimming. And he found the perfect way to combine what he loved with what he knew under the guide of Marc Herremans. The 1998 and 1999 Belgian triathlon champion and local hero started training his nephew in the sport in 2009 and was in need of company for him.
“For me it’s definitely cycling that I love the most,” among the three triathlon disciplines, reiterates van Riel. The Belgian enjoys exploring new roads, sights, and cities on bike: “Cycling is kind of my way to discover the world.” In comparison, swimming laps in the pool seems stale and repetitive, and just isn’t as exciting to him.