We've all been there: you make a nonchalant comment about taking on three Grand Tours in one season, and all of a sudden your directeur sportif has built your entire season around the notion. Maybe not. But that's the exact scenario breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt has put himself in ahead of the 2019 season, with the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España on his race schedule.
"Actually, it was a joke. I said it to Mario Aerts that I wanted to do the three Grand Tours and he started to write it down. It then became part of the programme," De Gendt told Cyclingnews and other members of the media at Lotto Soudal's recent training camp.
"I've done the Tour and the Vuelta four years in a row, and I have the feeling that one more Grand Tour extra isn't that different. In May I always go to a training camp but this time I'll do another Grand Tour. I hope that my second Grand Tour of the season will be as good as it has been in the last few years. In the past, I've been better at the Vuelta than the Tour, so I hope next year I'll be at my best at the Tour."
There is another reason for De Gendt's decision to take on the triple. Lotto Soudal is light in the stage racing department, deciding to concentrate their budget on young riders, Classics, and Caleb Ewan's sprint train. De Gendt's experience and ability to take on a heavy workload leave him well placed to shoulder added responsibility within the team.
"I have the feeling that we don't have a lot of guys for Grand Tours. We have a lot of young guys so it might be difficult for the team to find eight guys for the Grand Tours. I can take a spot, and I can do something in the Giro and the Tour, and the Vuelta isn't the hardest of the three."
De Gendt's role at each Grand Tour will ultimately depend on who else Lotto Soudal dispatch to each race.
"It depends on who's there," he said. "If Caleb is going to the Giro, then I'll work for him in the sprints. I think it'll be the same work I did for Andre Greipel, and then in the other stages I'll be able to ride for myself."
One possible outcome of such a programme could be that De Gendt is sapped of his best form and left riding on fumes when it comes to his specialty of winning from a break. However, the Belgian is quietly confident that he can sustain a high level and feel his way into multiple Grand Tours.
"My best days are always at the end of a Grand Tour, so it would be stupid to stop after two weeks. I'll have one more race day than this year, so I'll skip the Dauphiné and Pais Vasco. At the Giro, you have lots of nice stages for breakaways. In terms of chances to win, it'll be more or less the same as this year. The Vuelta is my favourite; it's more relaxed.
"It's possible that I'll lose a bit of freshness, but we'll see when the Tour starts. There's a month between the Giro and the Tour, and there's around a week between the Tour and the Vuelta. Usually I need a week to adapt to races like that, and then I find my power again."
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