Thomas De Gendt took the pressure off his Lotto Soudal team by winning Saturday's demanding Giro d'Italia stage around Naples, showing that despite being in the twilight of his career he still can take on the best. Even with that result, the Belgian says he doesn't expect to be on his team's roster for the Tour de France in July.
"It's not my decision, I cannot decide which races I want to do or have to do," De Gendt said in a rest day press conference at the Giro d'Italia. "I could decide until the Giro but I did three or four races extra that I didn't ask [for] - there was no other choice because we have so many guys that were sick or injured. And I also don't want to put a team at risk of not being able to start. You have to start with at least four riders and in some races, we were with only five."
In past years, De Gendt has raced the early season stage races like Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie and the Giro d'Italia and would then take a break before the Tour de France. This year, he threw in a few Classics - Nokere Koerse, La Flèche Wallonne, Eschborn Frankfurt, and the Tour of Turkey.
After the Giro d'Italia, De Gendt said he will race Tour de Suisse but he does not see the 2022 Tour de France in his future. "We have a lot of races at the same time. And some guys are preparing themselves for the Tour, so they are at altitude camp or some other training camp. So there is no other option than to do Tour de Suisse. And if you continue in the Giro to Tour de Suisse, then it's in my opinion not really possible to also add the Tour to this."
The 35-year-old said the Tour hasn't been in the plan so far this year, and he booked a training camp for July back in March. "I would like to go to the Tour but I'm quite confident that I don't have to go," he said.
De Gendt said he can already call his Giro d'Italia a success. He made the breakaway on stage 8 with Mathieu van der Poel and Biniam Girmay, who would have been difficult to beat in a sprint, but wisely followed a counterattack that left the two powerful riders behind. He then outpowered his companions to take the stage win.
Now that he has a win in the bag, he is under no pressure to add another. "I don't have to win two stages in one single Grand Tour, but of course, if I have the opportunity, I will try to win. I have teammates that I also would like to get the stage win, too," he said.
One of those teammates is sprinter Caleb Ewan, who said he will exit the Giro d'Italia before the major mountain stages, and until then, De Gendt said he will devote himself to helping his Australian teammate. "I think the easiest stage for me that I could have won was in Napoli. All the rest are either too hard or too flat. But if I have a chance to get in a break, then I will certainly try and if I have the legs then I also have a chance to win."
De Gendt is only 35 years old but is already being asked by the press if his later-born generation of riders having success is a trend.
"I think [Mark] Cavendish already started this he is also old. He also won a stage. Yesterday on the top of Blockhaus you had [Domenico] Pozzovivo, [Alejandro] Valverde and [Vincenzo] Nibali - three guys close to 40 or over 40 all the top 10. So it's like the revival of the older guys. All the young guys were super strong last year and this year, most of the guys that are winning are surprised that they can still win. It's like cycling has returned to normal again."
During the 2020 and 2021 seasons, several riders were shocked to see they were racing at similar power numbers to previous years but having no success. When asked if the peloton had slowed down or if he had gotten faster, De Gendt pointed to the former.
"I saw in a tweet the comparison between all the Grand Tour stages that I won, you could see my power and looks like the average power is the same as in St Etienne [2019 Tour de France stage 8] and is the same like the one in the Vuelta in Gijon [2017, stage 19]. I think I'm pushing the same, I'm not pushing harder.
"Maybe the peloton is slowing down a little bit - you cannot race like they raced in the last months every day in a Grand Tour. In the smaller races and in the one-week races you can do this, being really aggressive from 70, 80 kilometres [out]. All the GC guys in a Grand Tour have to take a little bit easier or you have a bad on a day like yesterday on Blockhaus. So I think that peloton is slowing down just a little bit - not that much because it's still difficult to win."
The challenge makes winning a major race even sweeter, and De Gendt made no effort to contain his emotions after his victory in Naples. In his autobiography, De Gendt opened up about his struggles with depression and said that allowing his feelings to come out has made a difference.
"It just helps me to not keep it inside like I used to. I just kept my feelings inside and now like when I won - I didn't care that you could see that I started to cry out of emotion. Five years ago I would have covered my face or just hold it in. Now it's OK to show your emotion either if it's happy or angry or sad that you should just show it. In my book, I also wrote about it to show you a side of me that nobody knew, so that people could know that even if you are successful or look successful and happy, it's not always the case."
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