John Degenkolb will once again base his season around the Classics, Tour de France, and his beloved Paris-Roubaix as the 32-year-old embarks on yet another campaign in the WorldTour. The Lotto Soudal rider, speaking from his team’s training camp in Spain, outlined his major objectives for the year and told the media that he held no fear of Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and the rest of the up-and-coming generation that had set the benchmark throughout most of last season.
“We have to try, even if it’s never going to be easy. When you look back to the other races it’s not like they share all the wins, and they are beatable. No doubt that if we ride head-to-head then Mathieu and Wout are on a different level but it’s not a time trial and it’s a lot about experience and tactics. I’m very confident that we can get a very good result there,” Degenkolb said.
“It’s very nice to look at what happened in most of the races last year. I’m not afraid to race against these young guys. I’m one of the oldest guys and the time has gone quickly but I still remember in 2011, more than 10 years ago, and I turned professional and the time has passed so fast. But during that time I picked up so much experience, coolness, and cleverness. So I’m not afraid to measure myself against the young guys in the peloton.”
The former Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo winner had a mixed season in 2020. He finished outside the time limit on stage 1 of the Tour de France after a heavy fall in Nice, but the German sprinter bounced back to win a stage in the Tour de Luxembourg and pick up top 10s in Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders, and Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne to close out his campaign. Those results have spurred Degenkolb on during the winter break, and while he feels experienced he certainly doesn’t feel beyond his best.
“I can just do my best and have confidence. It’s important to be up there and it shows that my time isn’t over yet. I’ve never been as close to the podium in the Tour of Flanders as I was in 2020. That gives me confidence so very good feelings. I believe that I can shine bright again," Degenkolb said.
“After the Tour last year, I did everything I could to come back and I could come back to race in Luxembourg. It was a huge boost to do that race, and with a lot of confidence I went to Binckbank Tour. In the sprints, I didn’t feel so comfortable and it was super hectic but my feelings were good on the hard stages and the confidence was there for the Classics and the results showed that I was up there. That was good for me and the team, and for the trust for the coming season.”
With Philippe Gilbert playing down his chances in the early spring Classics due to a lingering injury that he, too, sustained during the Tour de France, and Caleb Ewan concentrating on Grand Tour stage glory, Degenkolb could find himself front and centre in terms of Lotto Soudal’s Classics plans. His main target will be Paris-Roubaix, a race that defined his career in 2015 after an epic win, and then again with a cobbled stage victory at the Tour de France three years later.
“My favourite race, Paris-Roubaix, will be the big goal that I’m working towards. For me, it would be the biggest dream to repeat a victory in that race. That’s what I’m working towards,” he said.
But the German Classics specialist would also like to make the team for the Tour de France and compete at the World Championships, which take place in Belgium this year and favour the Classics riders.
“I would like to do the Tour and we’ve not made any decision the line-up. It’s still quite open. Then of course we have the Worlds, and I definitely want to be there. I want to be at a top level," Degekolb said. "I saw part of the parcours last year, which were very good to see because there are some really short and hard hills. It’s not going to be an easy race and it’s going to be very technical. If I’m in absolutely top shape then I can be up there and fighting for a result. It’s always something special to represent your country."
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