Two-time winner tuning up in De Panne
Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil – DCM) believes he is close to the form that carried him to back-to-back wins at the Tour of Flanders in 2008 and 2009. The diminutive Belgian has struggled for form in the subsequent two years but there were flashes of his talent on stage 1 on the Three Days of de Panne when he attacked on the final climb of the race. In the end his acceleration from the front proved futile but with his favourite race just around the corner, it will give him a welcome boost of confidence.
However, without a result in the last few years, Devolder has slipped down the pecking order both at home in Belgium and internationally. At Sunday's Flanders Devolder will be hoping that the new parcours will help revive his flagging career.
"I saw that E3 Harelbeke that I'm in good shape and I'm hoping to get in a few more miles here in De Panne to help me get ready and to get in top shape," he told Cyclingnews.
It's clear that the double Flanders winner still sees himself as a genuine contender for Sunday but he admitted that it will be difficult to mount a challenge against the clear favourites.
"I don't know where I am compared to (Tom) Boonen and (Fabian) Cancellara. Together with (Filippo) Pozzato and (Matti) Breschel they're the great favourites but I'm hoping to make the race with them.
"It's going to be a hard enough race but I'll see how my form is on Sunday. All I know is that I'm ready so I'll just have to see how the other favourites are."
Part of Devolder's lack of results may be due to pressure. The fanatical Belgian support can be both a blessing and a burden and each race in which Devolder disappoints is another let down for his fans, and another time for journalist to question his ability.
"There is pressure and it's there every year. When the Flemish races start you can feel it all building and building and even if you've won the race the year before it's always the same and you want to be as good as possible. For a Classics rider it's the most important two weeks of the year.
"I think I'm close to the shape of two years ago but there's no guarantee of that. You can have a great year, just look at Gilbert, because last year everything went his way and he won everything. This year nothing has worked."
But while Gilbert was consistent throughout his miraculous 2011 season, Delovder has rarely put back-to-back performances in. But with another Flanders around the corner there's another chance for the 32-year-old to try and kick-start his career.
"It's difficult. I won the race twice and afterwards you look back and think it was a miracle that you won, that you did it, then in the next few years you don't win and that's tough. It's a mental thing and it does have a psychological effect and it's hard to work with that in your head. It's been a struggle but I still have confidence and more confidence from the last few races. Maybe I have a point to prove and I want to win something."
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