By Brecht Decaluwé in Brest
There was a different feel to Quick Step's pre-Tour press conference with team manager Patrick Lefevere flanked by general classification hopeful Stijn Devolder and sprinter Gert Steegmans. Were it not for the exclusion of Tom Boonen, who tested positive for cocaine at an out-of-competition control last month, Steegmans wouldn't even have been at the media centre in Brest, but now finds the weight of expectation placed upon his shoulders.
"It's impossible to replace Tom Boonen," the Quick Step manager explained. "With all respect to Gert Steegmans of course, but Tom always takes away the pressure from the rest of the team."
In Stijn Devolder the team has a rider with general classification aspirations, although the Ronde van Vlaanderen winner did his best to play down expectations. "I'm dreaming of the victory in Paris, but not this year," he said. "I want to build up experience for future Tours and hopefully I can crack the top-10."
The Belgian champion from last year, who is a time trial specialist, could potentially wear the yellow jersey during this Tour de France. Beating world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara on July 8 near Cholet will be a tall order, but Devolder should be able to clock one of the best times among the general classification contenders. Two days later he could then claim the jersey when the race finishes at Super-Besse.
"The time trial is for specialists like Cancellara, but maybe I can take time on the climbers," he predicted. "I don't think about yellow now. First I need to focus on the time trial."
Quick Step would like to see bunch sprints during the first week, although it is unclear whether Steegmans will be able to handle the pressure. "We will try a train, because he needs space," Lefevere explained. "On the other hand, it is the first time in years we are showing up with a general classification rider, so we'll have to divide the team's forces."
The rider himself stayed cool under the pressure and when asked whether he could imagine grabbing the yellow jersey in the first stage, he reacted laconically. "I have a lot of imagination," Steegmans smiled. "I will certainly try because I prefer an uphill finishing straight, but we'll have to see if the finish is a little too steep or just perfect.
"My goal is the first stage and the linked yellow jersey, then any other stage and eventually we'll see if the green jersey is within my reach, just like every other sprinter I guess."
Steegmans was then asked if he was confident enough about his sprinting capabilities after not being able to test his legs in the bunch sprints at the Tour de Suisse. "There was always bad luck over there, but I'm confident. Did you know we also train in between races?" he replied.
Stijn Devolder will also be writing a diary for Cyclingnews this year. The Belgian will offer an inside view on his first Tour de France, in which he hopes to claim a top-10 finish.