By Daniel Benson
Garmin Slipstream's Martijn Maaskant backed up his fourth place in last year's Paris Roubaix with an equally impressive and high-placed finish in Sunday's Tour of Flanders. The 25-year-old Dutchman came home in fourth place, setting himself up perfectly for a crack at Roubaix next week. In last year's Ronde van Vlaanderen, he finished twelfth.
Team director Johnny Weltz signalled out Maaskant before the start as the team's leader. "We have him as our leader for the day, there's no secret in that. Our game plan will revolve around him. He wasn't the best, but then he finished seventh at De Panne and that was really important for his moral and that of the team," Weltz said in Brugge.
However Flanders didn't start well for Maaskant. "I wasn't feeling great on the first set of cobbled climbs, but as the race wore on, I started to feel a lot better. I'm pleased, of course, but I've just missed out on the podium," Maaskant said as he hugged his girlfriend at the finish. "The team expected me to be at the front and to do my job but there wasn't too much pressure. These are my races and they're competitions I'm paid to compete in. I'm meant to be where it matters, when it matters."
With so many attacks during the final two hours of the race, it wasn't clear whether Maaskant would be ruled out of contention. However, with a series of cat-and-mouse games playing out at the head of the field, only eventual winner Stijn Devolder was able to escape the peloton's clutches.
"We knew that once you're over the final climbs that it's fast but hard to stay away, and easy for the bunch to chase," said Weltz as he looked on at the Dutch rider's celebrations.
Into the final bend and Maaskant moved himself to the front, knowing that with so many tired legs there was a good chance most of the remaining sprinters would blow a gasket before the line. The Dutchman swooped onto Philippe Gilbert's wheel and almost overtook him. "He was the right wheel to follow, especially as he went right and there was a crash on the left, but I just didn't have enough to overtake him."