The 2013 season was a truly memorable one for Jan Bakelants as the 27-year-old Belgian earned his first professional victory in grand fashion with a stage win at the Tour de France as well as a stint in the yellow jersey. Bakelants later won the GP de Wallonie one-day race on home soil and had a pair of top-10 general classification finishes in a pair of WorldTour stage races at the latter part of the season - 4th overall at the Eneco Tour and 7th overall at the Tour of Beijing. Bakelants also finished 18th overall in his Tour de France debut, equalling the best overall Grand Tour result of his career.
Speaking at a press conference prior to Saturday's Boonen & Friends charity cyclo-cross race, Bakelants spoke about his preparations and plans for the 2014 season in which the Belgian moves to Omega Pharma-QuickStep after spending the 2012-2013 seasons at RadioShack.
"My season starts very early at the Tour Down Under, so it's all a bit of a rush at this time," Bakelants told Sporza regarding his resumption of training last week. "But history has taught me that I can get in shape pretty fast. This week the sensations in training are much better than last week when I was still searching.
"The Tour Down Under is in the middle of winter, therefore you save part of your preparation for later. To get that right I've chosen not to race in February, but will start again in the beginning of March."
One of Bakelants' priorities for the 2014 season will be the final Monument of the spring Classic season: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Belgian won the U23 version in 2008, also the year he showed his stage racing potential with a stage win and overall victory at the Tour de l'Avenir.
"I would love to win a sequel as a pro," Bakelants said. "When I was younger I won everything that counted in the Ardennes. I do know that my competition is now much greater, but I do my best on that kind of race with its hills."
Bakelants' best result in the professional edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is 58th, a finish he achieved in both 2009 and 2012. His earlier attempts at the race were also primarily contested in the role of domestique, such as in 2011 when his then Omega Pharma-Lotto teammate Philippe Gilbert won.
"It's strange that to date I've never really had success, but of course there were two years where Philippe Gilbert lead the team. I've also had knee problems [in previous years] and this year it was expected that I go to the Giro."
For 2014 Bakelants expects that the Giro will not be on his schedule, so he can properly prepare for the Ardennes Classics in April. The Belgian does hope that he once again returns to the Tour de France, this time with Omega Pharma-QuickStep, and Bakelants believes he can both be of service to the team's star sprinter Mark Cavendish as well as seek his own stage wins on hillier stages.
"During the stage I won [at the Tour] this year I showed that I can ride two kilometers really quick, which is always useful in the sprint train," said Bakelants. "The stages in the Vosges are also 100 percent my thing and it would be a pity if I missed out on that."