Trek-Segafredo director Dirk Demol says John Degenkolb has never been the same since the Sunweb training accident of early 2016, but insisted that talent doesn’t simply disappear and the German can rediscover his best level, maybe even for Paris-Roubaix in two weeks’ time.
Degenkolb could do little wrong in the spring of 2015, winning both Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix. However, his 2016 campaign was derailed by the car that drove into him and his Sunweb teammates while training in Spain in February. He suffered a serious finger injury that kept him out until May, and over the course of the subsequent 18 months he won just three races.
After a disappointing first season at Trek-Segafredo, where he was brought in as a replacement of sorts for Fabian Cancellara, he started 2018 with two wins in Mallorca, but has since struggled for results. He abandoned Paris-Nice and pulled out of last weekend’s Milan-San Remo with bronchitis – illness being a theme of the past years – and has started his cobbled classics campaign with 21st at E3 Harelbeke on Friday and 48th at Gent-Wevelgem – a race he’s won before – on Sunday.
“It’s all a consequence of his big accident, that horrible accident he got,” Demol told Cyclingnews in Deinze at the start of Gent-Wevelgem, “He lost many months, he had several surgeries. It looks like still he’s not back on his best, best level.
“But he’s working hard, fighting hard, and with his talent, I’m more than confident that he still will win big races in the future. He’s good, but since his accident he has never been on his super best level.”
Positioning is vital
At the team bus at the finish in Wevelgem, Trek-Segafredo’s press officer contradicted Demol and was eager to discourage any mention of the accident, citing it as “irrelevant”.
Degenkolb offered a perfectly friendly “no” when asked, in the presence of the press officer, if there was any truth in Demol’s assertion, but he preferred not to entertain any mention of the topic. He told Cyclingnews that positioning ahead of the Kemmelberg had cost him, but that he felt good about his form in general.
“I’m 100 per cent healthy again. Today my legs were pretty good but I wasn’t well enough positioned to be up there,” he said.
“I think I’m really getting there right now. Today I actually felt really good, in the end it’s unfortunate if you miss such a nice group and you’re not there to sprint for the victory. That could have been a good finale for me.
“It was a very hectic run-in to the second Kemmelberg… actually from the first Kemmelberg it was always pretty fast and nervous, especially on the gravel roads. I didn’t really have a good position on the small roads already before the Kemmel. If you’re at the back there then there’s not really much time to move up anymore before the Kemmel. In the end, it’s ‘if, if, if’, but a few positions made the difference to be there or not. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. It’s of course disappointing but I go home with a good feeling in the legs, and that’s the most important thing looking forward to the next two weeks.”
Degenkolb will now race Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday ahead of the Tour of Flanders next Sunday and Paris-Roubaix a week later. Demol believes he can play a part in both, but especially Roubaix, which suits him better both in terms of the parcours and the date, with an extra week to get into his stride.
Asked what exactly was missing for Degenkolb, Demol, who was critical of the German’s decision making 12 months ago, said: “It’s just that the super, super days are not there. It’s just that little bit he’s missing, not having the super legs. Good legs, but not the super legs.”
As for what he needs to do to rediscover those super legs, it’s more about trusting that it’s a case of when things will fall into place – not if.
“I’m confident he will be back on his best level. When, I’m not sure,” Demol said. “He’s a hard worker, super professional, and talent always comes back. Just keep going, keep going, keep racing, keep fighting, and it will come one day.
“He’s already good, and again chapeau for how he’s fighting – he works hard, he does whatever he can to improve. We stay behind him. We still believe in John Degenkolb. He won several Monuments in the past and I’m still confident he can repeat it.”