After spending last season switching from road to track as she prepared for the Olympic Games in Rio, Jolien D'hoore believes that she is faster than ever on the road. The Belgian told Cyclingnews that she feels stronger both physically and mentally.
D'hoore took bronze in the omnium in Rio but had to sacrifice her road form to do so. Despite notching up seven victories last season - most of which came in the second half of the year – D'hoore said that she felt as if she was struggling on the road. With just one discipline to focus on in 2017, she believes that she's back where she needs to be.
"I feel like I haven't been faster in sprints than I have been this year," D'hoore told Cyclingnews after arriving in the UK for the Ovo Energy Women's Tour which starts on Wednesday.
"Last year was a bit hard, especially mentally, because I knew that I was going to the track, but I had to do the road races as well. I wasn't going really well. In the back of my mind, I knew that it was because I was going to the track. This year, I feel different, I feel stronger on the road, and I have a different mindset as well, so that helps."
Just over five months into the 2017 season, D'hoore is just shy of her tally of wins from last year with five already in the bank.
The first came in Omloop van het Hageland at the end of February, and after second place at Gent-Wevelgem and a slightly disappointing Tour of Flanders, she took another win at the GP de Dottignies in April. May brought the Wiggle High5 rider her first WorldTour win of the season – and the second of her career – with two stage victories at the Tour of Chongming Island, where she beat Kirsten Wild (Cylance) in a straight duel, and the overall classification.
Having the speed is one thing, says D'hoore, but there is also an element of luck.
"It's just hard for a sprinter to really make a race and get into breakaways because people never ride with you. You just have to wait and ride in a group, hoping for a sprint," she explained. "That's kind of my story for each race. It's not really easy to make a race, but I just try to finish off in a good way.
"I understand that everybody needs to get their chances, and it's not always a sprint, so I'm cool with that. I also like to work for others in the team."
Eyes on the prize at the Women's Tour
D'hoore is hoping to add at least one victory to her palmares at the forthcoming Women's Tour. There will be no Wild to contend with in the bunch finishes, but the sprint contest is likely still to be tough with Chloe Hosking, Chantal Blaak, Amy Pieters and Lotta Lepisto all set to ride.
Wiggle-High5 also have Giorgia Bronzini in their squad, and the Italian will be full of confidence after a stage win in California. D'hoore expects that there will be two proper opportunities for the sprinters during the five-day race.
"I'm looking at stage 1 and the last stage in London as well," said D'hoore. "Stage 1 is very lumpy, but I think that it will be a sprint even though it will be a bit up and down the whole race. The finish in Kettering is quite technical and can be quite dangerous as well. I remember last year we came downhill and then there was a roundabout and it was very tricky.
"I think if it is a bunch sprint with everybody then we have to take risks. It's not a pure bunch sprint. It's for someone who is willing to take the risks and wants to go for the victory will win. Then, the last stage in London suits me more. It's fast, and that's what I like."
It is the first time in its short history that the Women's Tour finishes in London, with a three-point circuit that uses Trafalgar Square as its centre point. At just 86.8-kilometres [14 laps] it is expected to be fast from the outset. It will be a new experience for D'hoore, whose previous visits to London have been more about pleasure than business.
"I've been to London a few times, but only for some shopping so now it will be the first time I will ride my bike there. I'm really looking forward to it. It's kind of similar to Madrid, which I won last year. It is also a big capital. It was a different feeling to any other race. I really enjoyed it, and we will see how it is on Sunday."
Between her ambitions for the opening and closing stages, D'hoore will be playing the team role as they look to deliver Elisa Longo Borghini to another major WorldTour win in 2017.
"[Elisa] is very strong, so I think that we just need to be there for her," D'hoore says, going on to name Lizzie Deignan and Marianne Vos as their two biggest rivals in the general classification.
"I think that Lizzie will try to show herself in front of her home crowd. Marianne Vos is also in really good form. I raced with her in Gooik last week, and she was really outstanding. She was so strong, and it was really impressive to see her like this, she was really like the old Marianne again.
"She's a lot stronger than last year, so I think she will surprise a lot of people. Well, surprise – you can never surprise if you're Marianne Vos."