It’s that time of the year again. The Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix are now both within the next fortnight and the regular list of favourites are putting their hands up as likely contenders. A list of dark horses are also presenting themselves, not least Stijn Devolder.
The Belgian is a double winner of the Ronde in (2008 – 2009) but has faded away in the past couple of years. The 32 year-old rode a good Tirreno-Adriatico but crashed during the first Flemish test, Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. During the E3-Prijs Harelbeke he bounced back and showed glimpses of the 'old Devolder' - with several accelerations deep into the finale. The crowd in Harelbeke were ecstatic when Devolder launched his attack and made it quite clear that they hope for a comeback for the man they call Volderke.
"It’s moral-boosting to learn that there are still a lot of people supporting me," said Devolder to Cyclingnews. "This is my home region and hopefully I can offer them something in return for their support. I think I’m growing back towards my best form. It’s been three years since I was able to fight along for the prizes in Harelbeke. It boosts my confidence.
"E3 Harelbeke always has been my final rehearsal for the Ronde van Vlaanderen. If you’re good here then you’re often good in Flanders too. I know enough."
"Today I waited as long as possible to attack because no selection had been made, and then give all I had on the Vossenhol [Tiegemberg] but sadly enough it didn’t work out. I went full gas. They brought me back but it must’ve hurt for them. I’ve added color to the finale today and I hope to do that again next week."
Ever since joining the Vacansoleil-DCM squad Devolder has failed to win a race and that’s something the Belgian wants to get sorted out - he'd hoped to amend things on Friday at E3, but was still more than encouraged by his sensations ahead of Flanders.
"This was more than a test today - I chased the victory but sadly enough there was too much of a headwind. That made it hard to stay ahead of that too large group. Even with Cancellara and Pozzato it was impossible to stay ahead so then you know enough. I’d love to win one of these races. This performance offers me the confirmation that I’m ready. After that stupid crash on Wednesday I needed this.
"You know that you didn’t perform because of the crash but it does cause doubts; E3 took those away. In the finale today I think I was one of the best riders."
He says along with himself, he also has a good idea as to who his favorites are for the Tour of Flanders.
"There are those who everyone expects to be there; Cancellara, Pozzato is certainly one of the strongest men I’ve seen, Boonen and Van Avermaet too. Then Vanmarcke? Certainly. He’s been one of the most impressive performer I’ve seen this year. You can expect him to be there next week."