Björn Leukemans tweaks knee, hoping to win a Classic in 2011
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Björn Leukemans tweaks knee, hoping to win a Classic in 2011

by Jered Gruber at 4:41 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Vacansoleil Classics specialist crashes in training camp

Björn Leukemans, one of the big breakout successes of last year's Spring Classics, is going into the 2011 season with a lot of expectations, both from himself and his team. In 2010, Leukemans stormed to a succession of great rides including 4th at the Tour of Flanders, 6th at Paris-Roubaix, and 2nd at the Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Leukemans suffered a setback this week though when he crashed at his Vacansoleil-DCM's training camp in Spain. Writing on his website, the Belgian one day specialist notes that he lost it on a descent and went down hard. His injuries aren't too bad, but the one part of the body that seems to scare bike racers more than any other is hurting: his knee.

"My knee worries me the most. It hurts, and it's swollen. Hopefully, it's not too bad."

As the 33 year old said, hopefully it's not too bad, because his goals for the coming year are not small. Recently, the rider who has no problems speaking his mind on anything, talked with Cyclism'Actu about some of his goals heading into the 2011 season.

"In 2011, I will try to win a great Classic. In the long term, I would like to race another two or three years at the top and hopefully win some races that are close to my heart, and then help the young riders on the team. Somehow, I'd like to become team captain."

Of course, mention of winning a great classic instantly brings up the team's big classics signing for 2011: two-time Tour of Flanders winner, Stijn Devolder. As often seems the case, one star rider is not too worried to have another star rider next to him on his team. Whether those are his actual feelings or not, it's at least the average answer.

"I'm sure there will be no problem. We share the idea that we're both equal and that the race will decide who is the best that day. From there, we will arrange it to help the stronger one."

Unfortunately, for a race like the Tour of Flanders, the race is often not decided until somewhere around, and usually on, the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Many go into the Muur thinking good thoughts, and then find themselves to be lacking in very dramatic fashion on the upper reaches of the cobbled monster with the chapel just coming into view.

Tom Boonen would have been a grand example of this in 2010. He looked good, confessed that he felt good, but when Cancellara went, he could only writhe and sprint for all he was worth, only to find that he had lost half a day in the final few hundred meters of the classic ascent.

Devolder has been a good example of the flip side of the coin. In both of his two victories, he went into the Muur with a small group of solid riders…and then left them all gasping behind him.

With that said, there shouldn't be much of an issue if the race plays out as it normally does. The team has made a huge step forward with the acquisition of Devolder, and if the race comes down to a dogfight on the Muur, it won't be a bad thing for Vacansoleil to have two aces to combat the prodigious forces of the likes of Cancellara, Boonen, and Gilbert. Not to mention the possibilities of putting one of the two in a move ahead of the Muur. Devolder used his teammate status to Tom Boonen to perfection to take two consecutive Tours of Flanders. With Devolder as the number one guy for Vacansoleil in the Classics, whether Leukemans likes to admit it or not, his number one status could give Leukemans the same opportunity that Devolder profited from in the past. 

Interestingly, with last year's dominant performance in April still fresh in memory, Leukemans does not consider Fabian Cancellara as the rider to beat in the Classics. Instead, he sees his two Belgian compatriots as the two to beat: Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert.

Speaking of Cancellara, Leukemans seems to harbor little love for the Swiss superstar. Julie Dremiere asks about Leukemans's exasperated raising of his hand when Cancellara was able to cut the cord between the two as the last rider able to hold onto the express train to Roubaix last April.

"It was not really against him. I made the gesture, because the motorbike was a meter in front of him and helped him to accelerate. There was also a crosswind, so when Cancellara move to the left and followed the bike, I took all the wind. I was pissed. I did not know that this was the Tour of the World Champion.

Leukemans, still irritated at Cancellara's gamesmanship and apparently not impressed with last year's results, leaves the four-time World Champion off of his best of list for the Classics, but it's not just Cancellara that gets the cold shoulder. He has some terse words for his own teammate as well. When asked about whether he welcomed the arrival of Riccardo Ricco, Leukemans replied: "The team decided that, not me."

Outside of the Tour of Flanders and the other big classics, Leukemans has a soft spot for one of the smaller races, the Brabantse Pijl. Leukemans was 7th last year and 4th the year before, and wants more in 2011.

"I love this race, and I am convinced that I can win it!" exclaims Leukemans.

When comparing himself to the riders that have won the big classics, Leukemans doesn't feel like there's much of a difference between them and himself. Certainly, last year, he was more than a match for Philippe Gilbert on the Muur, but Cancellara and Boonen were long gone. Still, Leukemans feels the differences are small, and in his case, boil down to a bit of luck,

"I think I lack a bit of luck. I have often been present, but could not make anything of it yet. I also think it is necessary that I get better and faster in the sprints."

Leukemans plans to start his season at the end of January at the GP La Marseillaise. He'll follow that with the Etoile de Besseges and then the Tour of the Algarve.



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