Quick Step rider Gert Steegmans, winner of Paris-Nice Stage 1 and Stage 2, has attributed his two victories to the work he's done with a sport psychologist. The 27 year-old began his career as the final lead-out man for Predictor-Lotto's Robbie McEwen before moving to Quick Step to join forces with sprint superstar Tom Boonen.
Last year the tall Belgian made a name for himself after winning the Tour de France's Stage 2 in an uphill sprint ahead of Boonen and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas). Since then Steegmans has shown that he has what it takes to not only lead out the best sprinters in the world, but be one himself.
After winning the first stage which was shortened due to bad weather, Steegmans backed up his fine performance by taking the second stage ahead of current race leader Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) in more bad weather.
"I wasn't confident enough to ride for the win in the past," Steegmans admitted to Belgian news site HLN.be. "I always had troubles with my sugar level and I always got hunger-flat after 200 kilometres of racing. We've worked on that last year and it's resolved now.
"I also went to see a psychologist, Jef Brouwers, quite a lot and my mental approach of the racing is much better now," he added. "I'm less stressed and more confident."
Steegmans' success represents natural progression of the Belgian's career, with the 27 year-old enjoying a bumper season in his first year with Quick Step last season. In addition to his Tour victory, Steegmans claimed stage wins at the Volta ao Algarve, Driedaagse van de Panne, Quatre Jours de Dunkerque and a double victory at the Circuit Franco-Belge last season.
"Paris-Nice cannot get much better," he said. "If I can go to Milan-Sanremo with the condition that I have now a lot is possible.
"The difference between now and then is I no longer think that the worst is going to happen," he explained. "I just take my own chances. Maybe that is due to Jef Brouwers."
The end of stage two looked like a Spring Classic, something that Steegmans can reasonably aim at winning himself now. "Winning a classic is difficult for me because there are many other riders in my team able to do it," said the Belgian rider, who is more used to putting himself at the service of Boonen than riding for himself in the biggest events.
"Today, I stayed calm enough to let Hushovd, (Sylvain) Chavanel and (Michael) Albasini do the work and only to go to the lead when it was needed," he said. "My Paris-Nice has been positive. Now I will work hard for the next two days for our GC riders just as they did for me over the past two days."