Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) will target next week's Eneco Tour stage race as he prepares for the world championships instead of riding the Vuelta Espana.
On Sunday, Devolder will try to add the Belgian national time trial title to his road title. Nobody has ever taken both titles in the same year since the inception of the Belgian time trial championship in 1997. Devolder is already the only man to have worn the Belgian champion’s jersey in each discipline, having won the time trial event in 2008.
With Devolder joining Vacansoleil in 2011, the Quick Step team has opted to get extra visibility from showing the Belgian national champion's jersey on home roads. Quick Step directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters believes Devolder has a real chance of overall success because the seven-day race is likely to be decided in the last stage time trial in Ghent.
"Stijn's participation was decided after talks between the rider and the team," directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters said.
"He's Belgian champion and so it's right that he wants to race in front of his home crowd. It's also the better way to prepare for the world championships. He won't ride the Vuelta."
Devolder won the Tour of Belgium in 2008 and 2010 and has the climbing skills to handle the hillier stages in the Ardennes and perform well in the 16.9km Ghent time trial.
"The Eneco Tour is always open race. Anything can happen. We'll have to see what happens in the race and if Stijn form will allow him to fight for overall victory. But the Ardennes suit him, as does the final time trial. Overall victory is possible," Peeters insisted.
Devolder's biggest rivals for victory include last year's winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), fellow Belgian Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia), Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) and José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne).
The seven-day race kicks off with 5.2km prologue in Steenwijk, Holland on Tuesday.