Not since the 2010 Belgian road championships - where he took the road and time trial title - has Stijn Devolder taken to the top step of the podium. In fact it has been a full two years since the two-time Tour of Flanders winner has stepped onto a podium and while he won't be able to show-off his national stripes after taking his third Belgian road title at the Tour de France, the 33-year-old has shown that he is far from down and out.
After two seasons at Vacansoleil-DCM failed to deliver the same kind of results that many expected from Devolder, the 2013 season and move to RadioShack Leopard appeared to given him the kick he needed. Devolder has never been a prolific winner but has often managed to focus solely around a set number of targets and often deliver. Arriving at the finish of the 220km Belgian championship marked a return of 'old' as he rode across the line in solo trademark style.
Using his ability against the clock the RadioShack Leopard rider put in one searing move with 25km to go after his teammate Jan Bakelants was finally brought back after forcing the pace in a late-race breakaway. One big acceleration was all that was needed to create the race-winning move, with Devolder admitting he had been hiding his form during the day and in races leading up to the championships so he wouldn't been seen as a threat for the win.
"I can't believe I won this! I knew how good I was, but I had been hiding my shape a bit because I didn't want to be named as a favorite. There were so many favorites, and I didn't want to start the race with pressure," said Devolder on his team site.
"I was really focused on this championships - I wanted to win. This is a nice moment for me. I wanted to show that I am really back after some bad years. I promised myself that I would win a big race again and now I want to enjoy this moment with my family. They stuck by me and we deserve this."
Having a teammate up the road with Jan Bakelants forced the dominant Omega Pharma - Quick-Step squad to chase while Devolder could patiently await the time to strike.
"We didn't have the numbers but I chose the right moment to attack," added Devolder of the small RadioShack contingent that included Maxime Monfort and Bakelants while the likes of Omega Pharma arrived with a squad of ten.
"You need to be strong but also smart. It was the right moment to attack at two laps to go. It absolutely played out the way I had pictured it over the last couple of months. Having Jan in the front with [Kevin] Seeldraeyers (Astana) and [Thomas] De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) was just perfect. I could sit back and wait to see how the race would unfold. I knew I had put out one massive effort instead of playing a game."
Missing out on selection for the Tour de France - a race he has only lined-up for in on two occasions (2008 and 2009) - and subsequently winning his third title was not a response to his non-selection but rather the result of a strong lead-up during the year where he played a vital role in the successful spring classics campaign.
"This is not an answer to my non-selection. I had no time to be disappointed as I was so busy preparing for this championship. Nothing could keep me from concentrating on this goal these past days. After the classics, these championships were my only goal. I bundled all of my energy into this day. I'm very, very happy and proud. It's an honor to wear this jersey."
The RadioShack Leopard squad were one of the most successful ProTeams at the completion of the national championships. In total the team took five national titles including Fabian Cancellara (Swiss ITT), Bob Jungels (Luxembourg ITT and road race) and Robert Kišerlovski (Croatia road race) along with Devolder's success in the Belgium road race.
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