Whisper it, but WhatsApp groups might soon be portrayed as the next marginal gain within cycling. Thomas De Gendt certainly used one to good effect on stage 2 of the Tour de Romandie, or at least in the build-up, having plotted his stage-winning victory with teammate Victor Campenaerts two weeks ago when the pair first looked at the stage race profile.
The first chatter between the pair of Lotto Soudal riders focused on the uphill stage 3 time trial, but when Campenaerts suggested forming an alliance for stage 2 from Delmont to Yverdon, De Gendt duly accepted the challenge.
A fortnight later, the Lotto Soudal teammates were on the attack, forging clear on the first climb of the day, with Nathan Brown (EF-Drapac), Andrey Grivko (Astana), and Matteo Fabbro (Katusha), keen to latch on. Five soon became three, with only Brown able to last the pace. With 26km to go and the bunch unable to mount a chase, De Gendt left Brown for dust. Campenaerts had already cracked after sacrificing himself for his teammate, and with 20km to go, De Gendt was virtually assured of his second victory of the season.
"Victor brings the time trial know-how to the team. If I have a question before the time trial, I can ask him, but two weeks ago we were talking about tomorrow's time trial, and he sent me a profile for it. But he also told me that the day before had an uphill start and that he wanted to go full-gas on the climb so that he could get his legs turning," De Gendt said at the finish.
"I told him I'd join him, and that we'd go full-gas the whole day. So, we made this plan two weeks ago, and we were hyping each other up, and we even had a WhatsApp group, and it was our plan from two weeks ago. Victor gave his all for me until he was finished. He was important for me today but also for the team and the time trials. We can ask him anything about aerodynamics, and he always answers with a lot of passion."
At the start of the stage, De Gendt made it clear to everyone with a media accreditation that he would attack from the start. Only Bahrain-Merida put up any meaningful opposition, but when the gap moved out to eight minutes, there was little chance of the break being caught.
"It was a hard start, but I like starts like this. I'm almost always in the breakaway when there's a start like this. Today was a chance of the sprinters but there are only three or four here, so it was a chance for the break too. We went full-gas, and in the end, it was very nice for me.
"I wanted a victory in Romandie because I've not won here yet. I want a victory in every WorldTour stage race that I start in. Now I've won in Romandie, and it's important for the team that we ride aggressive and try to win."
As he left the press room, Cyclingnews asked about his strike rate: "If I have ten breaks, and eight of them are good, then it's two victories. Last year, I was in 23 breaks and two victories, so I'm already doing better than last year. I also didn't win for three years, so that brings it down a bit."
De Gendt has become his generation's leading breakaway specialist. He has won in all three Grand Tours, and his set of stage wins now includes stages in Romandie, the Dauphiné, Suisse, Paris-Nice (twice) and Pais Vasco (three times). He is a breakaway artist and one that few teams appear capable of dealing with.
Along with a flurry of messages issuing congratulations he can expect a few invite requests to that WhatsApp chat. If you're in a group with De Gendt, you've always got a chance
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