With all the hype that surrounds the likes of the Tour of Flanders big three, John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) has managed to fly under the radar. There were only a handful of journalists at the German’s pre-race press conference, compared to the hordes that made their way to Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s event just two hours later.
Count him out at your peril though. Degenkolb has been in fine fettle this spring and was on great form at Milan-San Remo, before he suffered a race-ending puncture. With five wins this season he is fourth in the victory standings, but he says he’s not feeling the pressure to add a sixth here.
“If the classic season finished now then we are fine,” he says. “We have already done some very nice things and that is it. I don’t know how the race will develop, but we can only win. We can’t lose anything.”
“I am not on the same level as Cancellara, Sagan, Boonen and Vanmarcke. These four guys, they are really the top favourites of the race. Like I said, we don’t have the pressure to win the race. Of course our goal is to make a really good result and probably get the podium at the end. The pressure is on the other guys.”
Degenkolb has already got one over his classics rivals with his victory at Gent-Wevelgem. He used the disappointment from Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke to drive himself through the carnage of the race and out-sprinted Peter Sagan, showing that he has the legs to take on the Slovakian if he needs to but he will need to be on top of his game if he wants to repeat it.
“It shows that he’s not unbeatable. It’s a great feeling, it’s a bit of revenge for last year when he beat me in a stage of the Tour. I’ve known him for a long time and I know that he is a great rider and a great champion. He’s won a lot of big races now and it’s a bit of a rivalry between us,” says Degenkolb. “We are all on a very high level and to win races, you need everything. Everything needs to be at 100 per cent for you to beat the other guys. If you are only able to give 95 per cent then that is not enough.”
Of all the classics, Degenkolb has had most success in Flanders. He took ninth in last year’s race and finished on the podium in the under-23 event back in 2009. Despite this, the race plays second fiddle to Paris-Roubaix. Degenkolb’s best result there was in his first year as a professional in 2011, where he finished 19th, but his dream is to follow in the footsteps of Boonen and Cancellara and win there one day.
“Until now, I’ve done better results in Flanders, but I really love Roubaix . It’s a tough race and it’s a dream of mine to win once in Roubaix,” said the 25-year-old.
“First of all it’s just great to be in these races, but to be successful there is unbelievable.”
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Sunday’s Tour of Flanders will be just as much about the team around the rider as the rider himself. Compared to the powerhouse teams of Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Trek, Giant-Shimano is a relative minnow. However, Degenkolb believes he has a secret weapon in Dries Devenyns, who he says is like having a GPS with him. The Belgian rider switched to Giant over the winter, after five years at QuickStep. He lives near the Oude Kwaremont, making de Ronde’s roads his training ground. While he’s not as strong as Degenkolb, Devenyns is also in good shape and the German thinks he has the potential to put in his own good performance.
“It’s a big key of the success and a big advantage. Yesterday we went to his house and we did a reconnaissance of the last 120km and we stopped at his house and he’s living right at the Oude Kwaremont. I mean nobody knows this parcours better than he does,” said Degenkolb.
“On top of that, he’s also very strong. He can also be there if there is a group of riders like Roelandts or guys like that. Guys who aren’t the top favourite, he can also be there and make a good result. If on Sunday he finishes in the top 10 at the Ronde van Vlaanderen then everyone is happy and I will be really happy.”
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