RadioShack-Leopard's directeur sportif Dirk Demol believes that Stijn Devolder can return to the big leagues and rediscover the form that saw him win back to back Tour of Flanders titles in 2008 and 2009. Demol was Devolder's directeur for several years at US Postal and QuickStep, and after Devolder returned to ride under Demol's wing this winter, he will be given a chance to ride for himself in Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Devolder came through the Belgian ranks as a talented junior. After capturing the under 18 version of the Tour of Flanders in 1996 and 1997 he was picked up by the Mapei team as a stagiere. Two years at the Vlaanderen team followed before a move to US Postal and the Discovery teams where he worked with Demol for the first time. In that period he won the Three days of de Panne and astonishingly finished 11th in the 2006 Vuelta.
While his stage race results plummeted after his move to QuickStep, he found one day success immediately, winning the Tour of Flanders in 2008 and again in 2009.
However 2010 saw Devolder's star begin to fade. A lacklustre spring was followed by public criticism from the QuickStep management. His departure from the team was sealed that summer and he signed for Vacansoleil for 2011.
Despite a change of environment the Belgian failed to replicate his 2008 and 2009 Flanders results. However, Demol believes that the old Devolder is showing signs of a return this spring.
"We're here without a real leader but the riders at the start will have free cards to take their chance. Fabian [Cancellara] is not here yet. He get here on Friday and he'll be our leader for the WorldTour races but tomorrow is also a nice race and I think the riders will have the freedom to go for it," Demol told Cyclingnews.
With Cancellara recovering from Sunday's gruelling Milan-San Remo, Radioshack will line up with a number of options. Devolder and Tony Gallopin start with the team's best chances but Demol is keen to see his former protégé find his feet before Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Paris-Roubaix - races in which Devolder is set to race as Cancellara's foil.
"For the last two years he has been nowhere. I don't know why, but he was out of condition, but I still believe that he can do good things and win races. I've seen him growing over the last few weeks at training camps and he's making progression all the time. I'm confident that we'll see him on the front in the next few weeks, fighting on the front."
"He's a really good person but he can be shy and doesn't like to be the centre of attention. His best role is when he's an underdog. That's how he won Flanders when Boonen was his leader. He’s a rider who when everything is right with his head he can do great things."