With Tom Boonen almost certain to miss the Tour de France, Gert Steegmans has additional responsibility in the sprints. But that too gives him additional opportunity. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes looks at the Belgian's changed role.
On the second stage of last year's Tour de France Gert Steegmans showed that he had what it takes to win at the very top level of the sport. Normally a lead-out man for Tom Boonen, the then 26 year-old Belgian accelerated so powerfully in the final few hundred metres that his team leader could not get by.
To his credit, the 2005 World Champion appeared as happy with Steegmans' triumph in Gent as he would have been if he won himself. Boonen went on to win the green jersey in the race, taking two stage victories in total, while Steegmans settled back into his customary role.
However that success marked the beginning of a new period for the rider. He'd taken good victories before, with his 2006 haul including two stages of the Tour of Algarve plus stage victories in the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque, the Tour of Picardie and the Tour of Belgium. In addition, his pre-Tour haul in 2007 was also a healthy one, with stage victories in the Tour of Algarve, the Driedaagse van De Panne and the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque.
Yet something undoubtedly clicked in his mind on that day in Gent. After the Tour, Steegmans dominated the Circuit Franco-Belgie, winning two stages, placing second on another and landing the overall victory. This year, he took the Trofeo Calvia in Mallorca and then won stages one and two of Paris-Nice, with his victory on the first day in France being particularly impressive; he started his sprint 350 metres from the line in Nevers and opened up a two second gap over Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) and Karsten Kroon (Team CSC). Perhaps that was the moment where he showed that he had outgrown his lead-out man role.
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