Devolder: "The Ronde van Vlaanderen is my race"
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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Devolder: "The Ronde van Vlaanderen is my race"

by Bjorn Haake at 4:38 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders

Stijn Devolder has won the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the last two years and will try to defend the title tomorrow. He would become only the fifth person to win it three times. His teammate Tom Boonen can achieve the same. With four wins in five years, the Quick Step duo is the clear favorite for Sunday.

Devolder does not even stem from a cycling-crazy family. "But I can't help it, after this race I think already about the Ronde next year. The day of Flanders our family sat around the living room table and watched the race on TV," Devolder said in a lengthy interview to Sportwereld.

He is so focused on it that his preparation is totally committed to the cobbled race in April. "The specific preparation starts after the season. In the first part, I only ride the flats with the goal of increasing endurance. After the first training camps in January I start to train on the hellingen." The hellingen are the short, steep climbs so typical for the Vlaamse Ardennes region. If the gradient, often exceeding 20 percent, doesn't get to the riders, the cobbles will.

Devolder chooses a traditional approach to training and doesn't believe much in performance testing. "I have trained with an SRM power meter before, but mostly I just use a heart rate monitor," dismissing media reports that he completely trained without any technical devices.

Important route knowledge

What is equally important to Devolder besides the physical abilities is the knowledge of the route. He scores high in that ranking. "The weeks starting from Kuurne, I trained on the Ronde route almost daily." He emphasizes that one has to be super concentrated on the task at hand. "Mental freshness is very important and knowing the route is essential." Which is why the Ronde suits him and his only appearance at Milano-Sanremo was a disaster. "I had no idea when the Poggio would be coming up, which really frustrated me. In the Ronde, I know where every cobble stone is placed."

Devolder prepares so well that he doesn't understand the recent criticism from his boss Patrick Lefevere. "I train a lot, because I need that. Others, like Oscar Freire, say they don't train much, but can you believe that? I like riding my bike. Since the beginning of the training period I rode every day, except Christmas and New Years."

The Belgian says that people should trust him. "I need someone who lets me do my thing." Which is not really the approach of Lefevere, but the subject hasn't come up in a one-on-one conversation yet. "It is not up to me to tell the Boss something. I am a bit shy."

Devolder is quick to point out that the relationship with Lefevere is good. "When I won my first Ronde, he came by my house with a present. It was a sign that he had bought near the Koppenberg and it still hangs in my house." Yet, there is a certain professionalism in the relationship. "The boss is the boss and he sometimes gets mad at his workforce - and sometimes it's vice versa," Devolder acknowledges. "It is not a factory where we work, but the principal is the same. At the end of the day, I stay a worker."

Devolder admits the stress coming up so close to his most important race. Yet, one man will have even more pressure. "We have an excellent captain and that is Tom Boonen. Chavanel and I are the jokers, but with the task to sacrifice our chances for Boonen in the final."

From super domestique to winner

Last year, Devolder went from domestique to leader. "I set up Tom both years for the Koppenberg and last year I closed the gap to the early break between the Koppenberg and the Valkenberg. Between the Valkenberg and the Eikenmolen I went back to the group and then I jumped."

The decisive attack was not planned ahead. "It was spur of the moment. I had good legs and started to build a small gap. But I didn't think beforehand 'I will ride away on the Eikenmolen'," which is the exact same spot where he also won the 2008 race. The Eikenmolen has been removed from this year's edition, but Devolder does not mind. "I know all the places that suit me and this new final also has possibilities."

He knows that the day will come when he won't win in Flanders. "The record [of four wins] is no obsession but sometimes I think about it." There is no problem, however, with Boonen. "I cannot recall that we ever had an argument. From the beginning people said that Devolder should not ride the same races as Boonen. But from the first year it went really well and the last two years we took the two big classics in a row." In both years that Devolder took the Ronde, Boonen was victorious in Paris-Roubaix.

For Devolder, the solution would be easy. "Boonen can become the recordman in Paris-Roubaix and I in the Ronde," he says with a smile. Sunday we will know if someone was able to spoil the Quick Step club championships.


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