With a new lease on his career in the form of a two-year contract with Lotto-Soudal, Thomas De Gendt aimed to make the best of his 2015 season, and put in a solid effort toward that goal by claiming the mountains classification lead in stage 2 of the Tour Down Under on Wednesday. The Belgian is now looking to keep the jersey through the end of the race on Sunday.
"It will be difficult to take the mountains jersey home, but it is achievable. So far, so good," he said to Belga.
It's been almost three years since De Gendt stunned the peloton on the Stelvio in the Giro d'Italia, then moved himself into a potentially career-making third place overall. The intervening years never provided the Belgian with the kind of elevation of status generally afforded to Grand Tour podium finishers. After a knee injury, the demise of his Vacansoleil team, and a grudging one-year contract at a sharply reduced salary with Omega Pharma-Quickstep last year, it seemed De Gendt's career might be ground down to a halt at the young age of 28.
Lotto-Soudal came to the rescue with a contract through the 2016 season, and De Gendt came to Australia motivated to prove that he can live up to his promise. Although he targeted the general classification, that aim dimmed after De Gendt forced the breakaway early in stage 2 and poured his all into making it stick. After taking the 10 points on the sole climb of the day, the break still had 120km to ride. De Gendt swept up the two sprint points along the way over Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) and Campbell Flakemore (BMC), before being caught with just under 25km to go. De Gendt rolled in more than 13 minutes behind stage winner Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar).
In addition to his mountains jersey, De Gendt was awarded the most aggressive rider prize, and now turns his attention to Thursday's stage 3 to Paracombe, where a tricky finish will determine whether or not he can keep his jersey. The finish features a hard right turn into the category 2 Torrens Hill Road climb that kicks up sharply at the base, and crests only 400m from the finish line.
"Tomorrow there is a climb 500 meters from the finish line where I can pick up 16 points for the mountain classification," he says. "If I am top five I can keep my jersey."
De Gendt also looked to later stages, like stage 4 with a climb early in the day and the double climb of Willunga Hill on stage 5 where category 1 points are available on both ascents.
"There are certainly options in the stages to follow," De Gendt said. "I will certainly be in the escape on the fourth stage, and try to be at my best in stage 5."