Stijn Devolder and Vacansoleil ready for Belgian Opening Weekend
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Stijn Devolder and Vacansoleil ready for Belgian Opening Weekend

by Jered Gruber at 12:24 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Devolder and Leukemans will get the opportunity to show just how potent they can be as a duo

Despite the publicity nightmare of Riccardo Ricco and the frightening possibility of the squad's ProTeam status coming into question, Vacansoleil will head into the Belgian opening weekend doubleheader of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with ample firepower and a chance to continue to put as much distance as possible between the current team and the sport's pariah.

Heading into the always entertaining Belgian opener, Stijn Devolder will look to do something he's never done before - pull off a big result in February in Belgium. Devolder has certainly factored in the two races in the past, but has never managed a win or even a podium spot. Considering Devolder's reputation as saving his absolute best for races at home, it's somewhat surprising, but considering his even larger reputation for coming into form on a remarkably precise day in April (two wins at Flanders), his lack of results in February isn't too surprising.

The 31 year old rider's move to Vacansoleil from Quick-Step in the offseason might have been just the kick in the pants the reigning Belgian road and time trial champion needed. Devolder has shown himself well in the first races of the year, notably at this week's Ruta Del Sol. Devolder managed a 4th place finish in a tough second stage. He eventually finished 32nd overall following an unfortunate half minute loss on the final stage, but his form is apparent. A newly motivated and fit Devolder could be a major threat this weekend, especially considering the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad's penchant for favoring aggressive riders.

Yesterday, the only rider in Belgian history ever to hold the road and time trial championships at the same time admitted that he's feeling good. Of course, as with all of the big favorites for April, the focus is decidedly on the fourth month of the year, not the second.

"In Besseges, I worked hard every day for the team. It was good training. I am in good shape. The Ruta del Sol ends Thursday, then a day's rest - I'll be ready in Gent. I want to run a good opening weekend. My focus is on April though, but I have a better base in form than I did 12 months ago," said the two-time Ronde van Vlaanderen winner to nieuwsblad.be.

Along with Devolder, Vacansoleil will have Björn Leukemans on tap. Leukemans is recovering from a nasty saddle sore, but looks to be back to close to 100% for the weekend. In a conversation with Het Laatste Nieuws, Leukemans points out that he and Devolder can form an excellent pairing if the two play to their strengths.

"Stijn Devolder and I can benefit from each other…Stijn can go in longer breaks than I can. I'm more explosive at the end. I see no problems."

The straight talking Leukemans makes a good point. Devolder's biggest successes have come from breaks, and his two biggest, Flanders both times, were preemptive strikes ahead of the traditional Ronde deciding point of the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Leukemans correctly points out that that type of move is not his forte, while it is the type of move that has made Devolder's career.

When asked to make a pick a winner for Saturday, Leukemans doesn't look to his teammate - instead to the Netherlands's other ProTeam, Rabobank.

"Note the name of Sebastian Langeveld. He will do a good spring."

Stijn Devolder will headline the team both days. He'll be joined on Saturday in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad by 2010 Classics success story, Björn Leukemans, Jens Mouris, Lieuwe Westra, Borut Bozic, Thomas DeGendt, Frederick Veuchelen, and Marco Marcato.

On Sunday, the team will add another sprinter in three-time winner in 2011, Romain Feillu, and Classics co-captain, Björn Leukemans, will take the day off. The team will consist of: Joost van Leijen, Rob Ruijgh, Borut Bozic, Romain Feillu, Gorik Gardeyn, Sergei Lagutin, and Mirko Selvaggi.

 

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