With a strong performance at the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, the Spring Classics campaign from Stijn Devolder (RadioShack-Leopard) came to an end. There will be no Ardennes for the 33-year-old Belgian, who was very disappointed that he wasn't able to support teammate Fabian Cancellara in Paris-Roubaix last Sunday. After a solid first part of his season, in which Devolder showed that he's on the way back into full form, he will aim next to win a race during the second part of the season.
"The most beautiful races, the races on pavé, are behind us. It was very good for me and the team," said Devolder. "The first goal was to get back at a high level and help Fabian Cancellara. Today, I wanted to race one last time, without thinking and to find out for myself how good I am. I conclude my spring campaign with a good feeling. I hope to reach my second goal during the next part of the season: winning a race again."
During the Brabantse Pijl, Devolder didn't plan to attack as early as he did. With 50km to go, he reached the top of the Ijskelderlaan climb at the head of the peloton and ended up getting a gap. At that moment, he was trailing the breakaway group by more than a minute.
"Sörensen accelerated. I took over, and suddenly I had a gap. It was difficult because there's no race radio, and you don't know where you are. Once I heard I was only half a minute behind the leaders, I kept going. I did it solo because I didn't even know there was another group coming up behind me. That's a pity because it would've saved me a lot of energy," Devolder said.
In the finale, Devolder wasn't surprised when Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) bridged up. Volderke didn't spare any of his effort in the breakaway and wasn't able to follow their move in the finale. He finished eighth.
Placing eighth didn't bother him although he was still thinking about his performance in Paris-Roubaix last Sunday. Despite being able to show his good form in most of the Spring Classics, he was going backwards at Paris-Roubaix after some bad luck.
"I was super disappointed on Sunday. It was the biggest disappointment for me in this Classics campaign. I had so much bad luck, and I should have been with Fabian. I knew I would be with him until deep into the finale. They would not have been able to isolate him like they did now. I would've been able to react on the attacks, giving him a a freer way in the finale," Devolder said.
"I had a chain problem and there was no car on the second pavé sector. I had to work on my chain for one and a half minutes. Later I flatted. I rode alone for 60 kilometres. I rode my finale at that moment in the race. I caught back up just before the Arenberg forest. There, I overtook about 30-40 riders and made it out with the first part of the peloton. Then my finale was over, and I was dead."
Before Paris-Roubaix, the Belgian rider had expressed his desire to head into the legendary showers at the vélodrome instead of freshening up in the team bus after the race. The showers in Roubaix each have a label of a former winner. After the race on Sunday, he was too disappointed to think about it, but on Wednesday he repeated his wish.
"One day I'll take a shower over there," Devolder said. Of course, if he ever takes a win in Roubaix, there will be no such time for a shower, but then he could always step into his own labelled shower the next year after that.
Before the season, Devolder wondered whether he was still worthy of being a professional rider. "Dirk Demol kept repeating during this spring that it couldn't all be gone. We took it step by step. In my head, it's all coming back step by step, too. I'm not there yet but it's coming back. I'm riding next to the best guys in these races," Devolder said.
After taking a break, Devolder will get onto his goal of winning races in the remainder of the season. He might take part in the Tour de France in July, but just before the French stage race, he hopes to win the Belgian national championships in La-Roche-en-Ardenne.
"I'm feeling good in this team. I can be at the Tour de France. Most important is that I can win a race again. It doesn't matter which one. Of course the Belgian championships are on my mind. The competition is impressive though. We have a good team for that race but there's only four of us."
For now, he will enjoy a well-deserved break. When asked what he planned to do, Devolder joked, "I'll be walking around drunk all day long... No, I'll be recovering. Doing easy rides of an hour, and then more, building back up. I look forward to being with my family and relaxing."