If there’s one rider in particular that 2013 Tour of Flanders winner Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack Leopard) should thank then it’s probably his teammate Stijn Devolder. Cancellara’s triumph on Sunday means that he joins Devolder on two wins in Vlaanderens mooiste.
After some rough years in which Devolder struggled to keep up the level he reached in winning De Ronde in 2008 and 2009, the Belgian moved back to his roots by joining the RadioShack team of his mentor Dirk Demol. On Sunday afternoon, Devolder rode an incredibly strong race. He bounced back from an ill-timed puncture and went on to pace the peloton alone for about ten kilometres ahead of the final approach to the Kwaremont, keeping them within touching distance of the breakaway move, which paving the way for Cancellara’s eventual victory in Oudenaarde.
“It’s the most beautiful race in the world and arriving here solo is great,” Devolder said. After crossing the finish line, the 33 year-old was a happy man. For once he didn’t have to hide away from the press after yet another lacklustre performance. A two-year spell at Vacansoleil-DCM didn’t bear any fruits and Devolder went through hard times after being confronted with the death of his friend Wouter Weylandt. This season, however, Devolder has shown glimpses of his talent and after last week’s training camp in Spain he came back to Belgium and rode an impressively strong Tour of Flanders.
“It’s the first time I’ve finish the race on this new course. Last year I had to abandon after a hard crash. I’m happy that I could play my role in the finale of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Is it my resurrection on the highest level? Yes, I think so. I’ve ridden a good spring season so far. I had a very hard crash in Qatar and today I showed I’m back in front of the race,” Devolder said.
When comparing it to the form he had when he won the Tour of Flanders himself, Devolder acknowledged that he was riding better back then. “I’m not back at that level just yet but I’m coming back and that’s important,” Devolder told Cyclingnews.
Though himself a two-time winner of the Tour of Flanders, there was no doubt about the hierarchy in the RadioShack Leopard team. Devolder said that everybody was confident that their leader Cancellara was the man to beat.
“Already in Harelbeke it was obvious he was the strongest. The E3 Harelbeke is always the last rehearsal for the Ronde van Vlaanderen and if you’re the strongest there then that’s often the case here too,” Devolder said.
“The whole team worked hard for Fabian. Others made us do most of the work because they knew Fabian was the man to beat. It was very hard for us. We knew he would go on the Kwaremont and Dirk was constantly reminding us to keep riding. Everybody gave all they had.”
From there it was up to Devolder to put in the spadework for Cancellara and so he did, in spite of that puncture just as the race reached its endgame.
“At a very bad moment I flatted and it took a long time before I had a new wheel. Due to the new rule from the UCI to add more safety to the wheels it took ages before I got my wheel back on,” Devolder said. The rule which the UCI enforced this season adds tabs at the bottom of the fork, forcing the user to re-adjust the tension when switching wheels. “I wasted a lot of energy to get back in the peloton after my flat tyre. Once there I did everything I could for Fabian until the Kwaremont. Then he was clearly the strongest and finished it in a fantastic way.”
Next week in Paris-Roubaix, Cancellara will once again lead the Radioshack team while Devolder will gladly settle for a role as lieutenant. Even during his best years he never managed to get on the podium in Roubaix. The Belgian does have personal ambitions later on this season, however. “I’ve always said that I want to ride the finale during the Spring classics. Personally I hope to be in top form during the Belgian national championships in La Roche-en-Ardenne. That’s where I want to ride for myself,” Devolder said.