By Bjorn Haake
Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) won the Ronde van Vlaanderen last year and is looking to repeat the victory on Sunday. But having strong teammates will give Quick Step several cards to play.
Devolder was happy to be riding alongside teammates like Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel. "It is very important to have a strong team and riders who have experience with the Belgian roads, the cobbles and the hills."
A scenario like in 2008 would be nice for Devolder. "Last year was amazing to be alone in the end. I had the Belgian champion jersey on and the people were going crazy. It was fantastic for me and I hope to do the same this year."
But of course every race plays out differently. "Last year I had a free role, but you don't know how it goes in the finale on Sunday. The plan is to have a strong team this year."
Devolder said that the question of who will be supported depends on how the situation plays out on the final. "Tom is the first kopman (leader). Then there are Chavanel and me."
The Belgian has done his homework. "I was checking out the course twice after Sanremo and I have a few scenarios in my play book." The form is there as well. "I think I am at about the same level as last year. I was feeling well in recent races, like Waregem [Dwars door Vlaanderen] and Harelbeke [E3 Prijs] - those were ideal training kilometres for the Ronde van Vlaanderen."
He did admit that day one in the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde did not go to his liking.
"This week I was trying to raise my fitness level a few more percent. It was a bit frustrating to have missed the move on Tuesday, but the important day is Sunday." He was otherwise racing pretty quietly in the four-stage race, except for his third place in the time trial, the same place he achieved last year before winning the Ronde.
"I am not saying I am not interested in De Panne, but you can make little mistakes that can have big affects," he said, referring to the nervous race that often leads to crashes.
His favourite part of the route is the Koppenberg. "It is a very important part in the Ronde where the race is usually formed. I also like the Muur van Geraardsbergen." With all the Belgians cheering on that penultimate climb it is easy to see.
Devolder acknowledged strong competition. "I think Filippo Pozzato has the best condition of all, but there are some very strong teams like Rabobank, Silence-Lotto and Cervélo."
Despite the difficulty of coming up ahead Devolder was certain. "I will definitely try to win the Ronde another time!"
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