An interview with Gert Steegmans, April 14, 2007
The Quick.Step team is the heavy favourite for Sunday's 'Queen of Classics', the Paris-Roubaix. Many people think of Tom Boonen when they hear the team name Quick.Step, but there is another man with a very similar body type to the 2005 World Champion who may soon break through. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews spoke with Belgian Gert Steegmans in Cysoing, France, after the team had finished its reconnaissance ride.
Press and fans gathered in the small village of Cysoing to see the Belgium-based Quick.Step team roll up after training for around 100 kilometres on the Paris-Roubaix parcours. One by one the riders filed into the team bus, showered and then met with press. Boonen went into the Bar Tabac L'Allumette for a scheduled conference, while the 26 year-old Steegmans, who is just 15 days older than Boonen, relaxed in the bus.
"It will be dusty in the race," he noted, still cleaning the dirt from the corners of his eyes. "Today it was okay because there were only eight riders." The weather is expected to be hot, near 26°C, and lack of rain recently has made the pavé very dry and dusty, which, on Sunday, will create a huge dust-storm atmosphere around the groups of riders.
"I don't remember a Roubaix like this," summarised Steegmans, as he sat in the shade of the team bus. "It is really hot and that will make a strange Paris-Roubaix; I have never done one like this. It feels like summer." He then added his own personal forecast for the race: "I think it will be a headwind on Sunday, which will make for a hard race. We will have to wait for Sunday to see how it goes."
"Last week we were the favourites and everyone killed us, so let's play the underdogs now." -Steegmans on the team's strategy for the Hell of the North
One problem with the heat is the added pollen in the air. Steegmans is forced to take medicine to deal with Mother Nature's changes. "I have allergies from the trees and plants, so it could be a problem, but normally I take my medication. I think with the dust it will be hard on everyone. As long as there is only dust then it will be okay, I just don't need the pollen."
Steegmans has been quietly plugging away since he turned professional in 2003 with Lotto-Domo. This year he won stage 3 in the Three Days of De Panne and stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve, and has shown the legs that could allow him to win on Roubaix's Velodrome on Sunday afternoon.
"We will discuss my role on Saturday," the Belgian said in regards to how he will function within the team. "It will be a very hard race. After the Arenberg, we need to have as many guys as possible up front. And then, from there, we will have to wait to see who the strongest guy is.
"And if possible we will try to neutralise the strong guys, like Fabian Cancellara [Team CSC] and Leif Hoste [Predictor-Lotto], and then go for the victory."
With the 2005 and 2003 Paris-Roubaix champions in the squad (Boonen and Van Petegem, respectively), and manager Patrick Lefevere who has directed teams to eight victories during his managerial career, the Quick.Step boys will be closely marked. Despite this, Steegmans sees the team playing less of a leadership role on Sunday.
"We have a lot of good riders. Normally this is the case, but last week [in Ronde van Vlaanderen] we were the favourites and everyone killed us, so let's play the underdogs now."
Steegmans showed strong form in the Ronde when he followed a rival in one of the race's key moments. It could be that on Sunday he will be sent up the road to mark a threat and then be allowed to ride on to victory. "I had my go in the attack with Cancellara," explained Steegmans, reflecting on his ride in the Ronde. "From there, after we got caught, the race was finished. Tom was not good enough to follow [Alessandro] Ballan on the Muur. That was everything because [up to that point] we did a good race.
"Also, like every team, we had a lot of bad luck, but that is just how it is. I don't think we made one big mistake, just that Ballan and Hoste were too strong."
He is now focused on the 259.5 kilometres of Paris-Roubaix. Cancellara was the one names Steegmans had to say when asked to pick a favourite. Last week, he witnessed the power of the world time trial champion first hand when he followed the Swiss rider's attack with 42 kilometres to go.
"He is going really fast on the cobbles. Last Sunday, the attack [from Cancellara] was definitely too early, and too fast from the beginning. If we would have gone easier we would have had [Wim] Vansevenant and [Stijn] Devolder with us and then, maybe, the breakaway would have succeeded. Cancellara was killing everyone and no one was keen to take over. It took a while for others to take over, and then, when we did, we were finished.
"Who else is a favourite? I think Hoste. He showed good form in Flanders, he will be good. And then the classic contenders, like Boonen and Ballan... everyone that loves the cobbles. You have to love it."