RadioShack-Leopard classics specialist Stijn Devolder admits that this spring is the toughest he's encountered throughout his career and suspects that much of the peloton is struggling to get motivated to race in the brutal conditions.
Devolder overcame mechanicals and a crash to finish in the main bunch 2:15 behind teammate Fabian Cancellara during Friday's E3 Harelbeke, along with fellow RadioShack rider Gregory Rast.
"I had a lot of bad luck but very good legs and this is good for the team in the next races," he told Cyclingnews on the eve of Gent-Wevelgem.
While RadioShack DS Dirk Demol has indicated that he believes the 33-year-old can return to the form that helped him win two editions of the Tour of Flanders, Devolder is on the fence with regards to any comparison to 2008 and 2009.
"I don't know if I'm close to that - it's difficult to say but I feel a lot better than the past year when I had a bad spring season," he admitted. "I feel good and I feel that I can ride against the other good riders who will be in the final in those big races."
With bad weather forcing the removal of 45km from this year's edition of Gent-Wevelgem, and Deinze hosting the race start, Devolder was cautious over whether race organisers had been proactive enough, but admitted that they faced a difficult decision with race infrastructure also to be considered. Race director Frank Hoste announced on Saturday that a decision would be made in the morning as to whether additional safety measures would be enforced.
"After San Remo we had bad weather again in Waregem on Wednesday and you feel that everybody is a little scared on the start," he exaplined. "After what we saw in San Remo, it's very hard to race in these conditions with the ice on your body all day.
"Your body is not made to survive four or five hours in those temperatures with the sleet on your body. After a while you can see like in San Remo that the riders are... it's not healthy for you.
"For now I think it's a good decision [to shorten the race] but we have to wait and see tomorrow morning if there is snow on the roads or not."
Following Friday's emphatic victory, Fabian Cancellara made much of the fact that the team's first big win of the year had been achieved in Harelbeke, but the real work was only just starting with an eye to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix over the next two weekends. Devolder would not go so far as to say that the team could take their foot of the gas at Gent-Wevelgem but did admit to a bigger picture approach.
"The pressure is a little less now than it was on Friday because we were waiting for the first big win of the season," said Devolder. "This is a big team with big expectations and it was too long that we had to wait for a win. Of course he [Cancellara] will be the big favourite for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. We're going to help him try to win those races.
"Tomorrow is also important. It's a WorldTour race but I think it's more important next week and the week after."
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