Lotto Soudal's breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt is in the midst of his ninth Tour de France, though the Belgian has said that this year has been a different experience for him in comparison with previous editions, as his best efforts have so far have brought meagre rewards.
The Belgian, who won stages from the break in both 2016 and 2019, has struggled in 2021, having only been part of a brief 30-kilometre move towards the start of stage 6 to Châteauroux during the opening nine days of the race.
Speaking before the start of Sunday's mountain stage to Tignes, De Gendt said that he feels the level in the peloton is much higher than it was previously. He has so far been unable to make his mark on the race, despite the power numbers he has been putting down.
"I rode one of my best ten-minute efforts ever at the start [of stage 8]. Those values have been recorded since 2013," De Gendt told Sporza before setting off for a grim day in the saddle towards Tignes.
"Normally, with those values, I can ride the whole peloton to pieces. Here, I was 100 metres behind in a group of 70 riders – and I started from the front row. When you're not in the peloton after that it's clear that the general level is just much higher."
De Gendt said that during stage 8 – which saw Tadej Pogačar blow the Tour's GC race apart after putting 3:20 into his rivals with a 32-kilometre solo attack – he had put out the kind of watts he'd normally see in a breakaway move.
However, rather than battling with the protagonists of the break, including stage winner Dylan Teuns, he was way off the back of the race, finishing 28 minutes down on his compatriot.
A 'changing of the guard' comes to every generation of sportsperson, but the 34-year-old said that he didn't expect one to come about so suddenly, and not while he is still putting out career-high power numbers, either.
"I pushed my numbers in the breakaway only I finished 28 minutes down. But I feel as tired as I do after I've been in a breakaway," he said.
"One day, the day has to come when the young riders are better, but they have done it very suddenly. Normally it's gradual but now they have suddenly taken over everything and push the older ones to the back.
"I can't improve. If they race too fast, then I have to accept that. I can try and hope for a super day, but if it's not there then it's not there."
De Gendt, whose top result in 2021 saw him get the beating of Tour stage winner Matej Mohorič to win the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya, added that he's considering ending his career when his current contract finishes if the outlook doesn't change.
"I have to draw my conclusions, finish my contract, and then it's time for something else," he said. "If they are better, then so be it. I'm 34 now and will be 36 at the end of my contract. I won't suddenly improve another five per cent unless I engage in 'wrong things', but I won't do that.
"I have to hope to have a super day. I can only try. This year I already had one super day and then I won a stage at the Volta a Catalunya. So it's possible, but everything has to go well."
Update: On Monday's rest day, De Gendt sent the following message to Sporza podcast De Tribune.
"I don't think that doping is circulating on a small or large scale. I won't put my hand in the fire for anyone, but I do trust that everyone rides clean. The general level has just been very high since after lockdown, and the level it is now is too high for me."
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in 2019 after working freelance at pretty much everywhere in cycling media for seven years.
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