After the battles of the Cobbled Classics I’m back home with my family and enjoying some precious time off the bike before the next phase of the season begins. It’s a time to reflect and look back, say a fond farewell to a dear friend, and recharge the batteries before May and the Tour of California.
As I sit here now, relaxed, and with the sun shining, I can look back and be proud of my Classics campaign. As a team we couldn’t really ask for much more. Okay, we were looking to win Paris-Roubaix but in every race we made the race, and that deserves a pat on the back.
For me, Flanders was probably the personal highlight. The first 260.555 kilometers were perfect but in the sprint I really messed things up. But it was the first time I rode that race as a real protagonist and I was there all the time. Tom and I rode well to help Philippe and, to be honest, that wasn’t really a pre-meditated plan to attack when we did. We found ourselves with this excellent opportunity and in the end it was the right choice.
When it comes to choices, everyone on the Quick-Step Floors team has had to say goodbye to Tom, Tommeke, who has hung up his wheels. That whole process has given the Classics a different feeling. In the last few years Tom hasn’t done too many Grand Tours, so the Classics were always a time to part ways in one sense, but of course this time it’s different.
I’ve been in the team with him for six years now, so Tom’s a teammate, and also a friend. We spend a lot of time together and so we’re close, and it feels like we’ve always known each other. For me, and for many others, he was like a light within our team and everyone was drawn to him. It’s going to be strange without him but I’m sure we’ll see him at some point down the road. Tom is cycling, and cycling is Tom. He was a special rider and did things that no other rider could do. You can’t really compare him to anyone in the current peloton.
As for disappointments, the sprint in Flanders is the only one that really stands out for me. I wrote about bad luck in a previous blog but this time it was well and truly my own fault. I started my sprint way too early and so with 50 metres to go the others swamped me and passed me. I perhaps thought I had great legs like Philippe but instead I had normal legs like everyone else.
The consolation for the lack of results is my consistency. I was always up there in the races, often in the front group. I was up there but I sacrificed my chances for the good of the team. I’ve no problem doing that if someone else is stronger. Philippe was stronger at the Tour of Flanders, and so Tom and I sacrificed our chances and rode to protect him. That meant I was distanced on the Oude Kwaremont and couldn’t ride for a placing, but that’s part of the game in a big team like ours.
I think our greatest strength is that we always produced a Plan B or Plan C that worked out in some way. We saw that at Scheldeprijs. The late crash meant we lost Fabio Sabatini but we still did a good leadout and Marcel Kittel finished it off and won. At Flanders, Gilbert was up the road but Tom, Nikki and I were there. That means we work well as a team, that everyone is willing to do the work, get their hands dirty and step up when needed, when something doesn’t go to plan. That’s our real strength.
Next up for me is Tour of California. I’ve done it a couple times and it’s a good race, with perfect weather and a good field. I’ll do my altitude training there, and provisionally I head out on the 26th of this month. We have Kittel for the sprints so that’s a real aim for the team. I don’t know my exact role yet and to be honest I’ve been off the radar since I got sick and that’s why I missed Amstel. I’ve recovered and spent some lovely time with my family and enjoyed some downtime. You really appreciate those moments because as soon as you start packing your suitcase and heading out the door, it’s all systems go and you’re already thinking about racing.
There’s a lot of racing left to do yet. We start earlier and finish later. Despite a busy and intense spring, I feel like we’ve only just got going.