Almost eight years to the day after he crossed the Volta a Catalunya's final finishing line at Montjuic ahead of Spain’s David Lopez, Croatian Robert Kiserlovski and the late Michele Scarponi of Italy, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) could claim a second triumph in the same scenario on Sunday.
Part of a winning break of 32 riders, De Gendt splintered away from the move some 40 kilometres from the finishing line with Slovenian Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) then dropped Mohoric on the steepest part of the circuit with five kilometres to go.
He soloed home for his fifth stage win in the Volta a Catalunya, confirming that the Catalan event is his favoured hunting ground for breakaways, given Paris-Nice and the Tour, with two stage victories apiece, are the only other races where the Belgian has taken more than one stage win.
For Lotto Soudal, De Gendt’s win rounds off an excellent week for the Belgian squad. That was thanks to their young Danish rider Andreas Kron taking the opening honours and race lead on day one in Calella, and De Gendt, 12 years his senior, making it a Lotto Soudal ‘stage win sandwich’ on the final day at Montjuic.
“I always want to be in this race every year, I’ve got two King of the Mountain titles here as well as the stage victories, and it’s really special to win again in the centenary year and in a big city finish,” De Gendt said afterwards.
“It was a very different victory to 2013, when I only attacked with four laps to go. This time I was in the big break and I knew I’d have to go for it because I was alone and every other team had two or three riders in there, but I was surprised only Mohoric came with me.”
De Gendt explained that he had attacked on the last climb, dropping Mohoric, because every time the duo went round the seven-kilometre circuit, Mohoric had gapped him on the downhill towards the finish.
“I knew that would happen again if I stayed with him until then and then I’d just get a second place. So when we came to the climb the last time, I could feel his speed dropping a little, and that’s why I went for it.”
De Gendt said the addition of the tougher climb up to Montjuic Castle, with ramps of up to 18 per cent, to the traditional circuit for the Volta A Catalunya was definitely beneficial for the race.
“This climb is a little bit harder and little bit longer and it opens it up more for attacks and breakaways. We did it in the 2012 Vuelta, too, I think,” when, as it happens, another top Belgian racer, Philippe Gilbert, won. “All in all it's a good addition.”
As so often happens in the Volta, once the 2021 race left the Pyrenees mid-way through, the main interest centered on the stage wins, and this year, thanks to Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and De Gendt, made for a vintage series of battles for victory each day.
But whereas neither Kämna and Sagan have won before in the Volta a Catalunya, De Gendt has racked up victories in 2013, 2016, 2018 and 2019 prior to this year.
“I really like the race routes here here, and with the time trial” - a first since 2007 - “that made it more special this year. Also because it was the 100th edition, I wanted to be here at the start, too,” De Gendt said. “But I definitely want to come back in 2022 as well.”
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