With a special Bianchi-celeste jersey just for the Amgen Tour of California, Vacansoleil-DCM's Thomas De Gendt is looking for a top finish in the Amgen Tour of California to please its equipment sponsor.
Having shown his stage race abilities in the 2012 Giro d'Italia with an inspired victory atop the Passo dello Stelvio and a third place overall, the 26-year-old Belgian may not be given quite as much leash by his competitors after that display.
As a result, the Dutch team may look for a one-two punch with cagey rider Lieuwe Westra, and go for stages with notable escape artist Juan Antonio Flecha or sprinter Kris Boeckmans.
"The race is important for the team - we have special jerseys for this race and we want to show it.
"The goal is to be in the top 10 of the general classification, but we have other riders in the team that can do the same, and maybe try to win a stage," De Gendt said.
The team has been enjoying the warmth and sunshine of Southern California after a cold, rainy start to the year in Europe in its first foray into North America.
"The Tour of California is something different. Normally I would do Circuit de Lorraine, but now it's cancelled. But it was a nice opportunity to do this race, and if it works out well this year I'll try to come back in the future."
De Gendt has his eye on the mountainous stages but also the San Jose time trial as a place to put his abilities to good use.
"On first sight it's a hard race, harder than the other years, I've heard from the other riders. The time trial is going to be very hard, but it is a time trial that suits me. Mt. Diablo will be a very hard stage too."
De Gendt had a fine victory in the Volta a Catalunya stage into Barcelona, but since then dropped out of the Tour of the Basque Country and has been suffering from some knee problems and isn't sure of the state of his form.
"It's been three weeks since my last race so I don't know how the condition is. I did a training camp in Italy and I think the condition is OK but I don't know if it's good enough to win a race.
"If I can win a stage here and in the Dauphine, I will try it."
After his podium finish in last year's Giro, there has been a lot of expectations placed upon his shoulders to be Belgium's next Grand Tour contender, but De Gendt is hoping to stay under the radar for a bit longer.
"People have expectations, but also I have expectations. I don't want to have so much pressure. It's easier for me if they just let me do my thing and let me ride the races I want to ride. For now it's working out this way. we'll see in the Tour if the pressure gets to me or not."
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