Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) bounced back from a Paris-Roubaix full of bad luck and crashes with a splendid performance in the Brabantse Pijl, where he was nevertheless beaten by Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) in a two-man sprint.
“I didn't expect it myself. I wasn't fully recovered from Roubaix. I hit the deck three times in that race and rode three finales to get back to the front each time. I started today without any expectations.
“When I attacked during the penultimate lap I looked back and saw Philippe sitting on my wheel. I looked at his face and knew that I wasn't going to drop him. In the sprint he's faster so I knew I was facing a problem,” Leukemans said.
Moreover, Gilbert hadn't raced Paris-Roubaix, so it was clear Leukemans was facing an uphill task. Still, he continued to share the work on the front with his top-class compatriot.
“Why I kept riding? It's just my way of racing. I know that the chance for me to finish second was real. There are a lot of fans out there who like me because of my racing style. I'm always going flat out. As a result I'm missing out on the victory once in a while but that's just the way I am. To me the best rider should win the race, but that's not always the case,” Leukemans explained.
While getting boxed in at the post-race media scrum, one journalist bluntly asked Leukemans what the agreed price had been for his co-operation in the break with Gilbert. Leukemans did not deny or comment the allegation, even though Gilbert claimed they were talking about the weather.
The combination of Leukemans' attitude and a possible financial bonus could explain the co-operation with Gilbert for the remainder of the race. Further doubt arose as Leukemans did not try whatever possible to get the faster Gilbert to lead out the sprint.
Instead, Leukemans led out Gilbert towards his almost certain sprint victory.
“Why would I slow down? Gilbert can sit in front of me, it just doesn't matter. He's faster at the finish line and that's it,” Leukemans argued.
On Sunday, the first part of the season is coming to a conclusion for the skinny Belgian. The Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands is a race Leukemans feels he has within his reach.
“I hope to do better than last year. I didn't have a good day and the form was on the way down. I reshuffled my season a bit this year and didn't focus on Waregem [Dwars door Vlaanderen] and [E3] Harelbeke, peaking only from the Ronde van Vlaanderen and onwards. Now I hope to be in the mix in the finale of Amstel,” Leukemans said.
When asked whether he hoped to play a side role or really aimed to grab the flowers on the podium, the 33-year-old Belgian explained that he aimed high. “I'm always thinking about the podium, just like I did in Roubaix. At the start in Compiègne I really thought I would be standing on the podium. I rarely had as much bad luck in a race as I did in Paris-Roubaix, just like I rarely had such good legs. Due to circumstances – bad luck in Roubaix and the situation in Flanders – it didn't happen; that hurts. It's good that I could ride that out of my system today and I hope I can repeat it on Sunday.”