Bart De Clercq didn't expect to win a stage at his first Grand Tour when he got the call for the Giro d'Italia, but the surprises continued for the Omega Pharma-Lotto team that came to the Giro with no star rider. The Belgian ProTour team had already put in a good performance in the opening team time trial, finishing fourth.
"If I make it to Milan, my Giro will be more than a success," De Clercq wrote on his blog from Turin on May 4. He suffered an Achilles injury at the Volta Catalunya and resumed racing at the Tour de Romandie prior to his first start in a Grand Tour.
It wasn't the ideal preparation for the 24-year-old Belgian who signed for Omega Pharma-Lotto on August 22 last year during his second year of competitive cycling with the Davo team, directed by Kurt Van de Wouwer. He turned pro without a great pedigree in the amateur ranks. He has victories at the Tour de Moselle in France, a race in Deerlijk, Belgium and stage 1 of the 2009 Tour de Namur in his palmares but recruiters knew that he was a special rider.
"In my teen years, I was doing athletics," he said in Mercogliano. "I was a runner, but I had to stop because of some injuries. Meanwhile I still did a lot of sport but no competitions during my studies in physical education at the University of Gent.
"I also rode my bike, but as a tourist. Only when I stopped going to school I started racing, not for the purpose of becoming a pro rider, but it turned out quite differently."
De Clercq wasn't exactly racing under a specific plan to win the first uphill finish stage of the 2011 Giro d'Italia. "Why did I attack with 8km to go?," he said. "The speed wasn't very high, so I tried to attack. It turned out quite well. Maybe riders should try to attack a little bit more. If you feel good, you have to attack.
"I was suffering in the last three kilometres. I saw the bunch approaching very fast but I kept just enough of my lead. It was very nice at the end."
For a Belgian rider, it was something special to claim a stage win at the Giro in the week of the death of his compatriot Wouter Weylandt.
"He was not a close friend but I knew him quite well," De Clercq said. "He lived about thirty kilometres from my house. We regularly saw each other at training and I talked with him during stage 1. I didn't think about him during the stage but at the end, I dedicate this victory to him."