Stijn Devolder cracked a big smile as he talked about how he won the Tour of Flanders in the winner?s press conference.
Thanks to the best ride of his career in the final hour of one of the hardest ever editions of the Tour of Flanders, the 28 year-old went from being quality domestique to Flemish hero. Some of the Quick Step fans perhaps wanted to see Boonen win but Devolder was definitely the strongest rider in the race.
He describes himself as a stage race rider and will target the yellow jersey in the Tour de France this summer, but has proved he can also win the toughest classics.
?The Tour of Flanders is great race and for most people winning alone like I did is the best way of winning it. I think I?ll dream a lot of about today and at moment I can?t believe that it came true,? he said.
Devolder worked hard for Boonen in the middle of the race but admitted he used the presence of Boonen behind to outwit his rivals in the break that lead to his solo attack.
?When I was in the break with Hincapie and Ballan, directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters told not to work because Tom was behind. Hincapie asked me to work but I told him why I couldn?t. He?s a great professional and understood why,? Devolder said.
?I decided to attack when we were about to be caught just before the Eikenmolen. It was the ideal moment and I had good legs.?
?I?ve never suffered as much as I did between the Bosberg and the finish. Because there was a strong head wind. I didn?t know I?d make it but didn?t know what the time gap was because my radio wasn?t working. I asked the motorbike what the gap was but in the end I decided to just keep going flat out. Fortunately I had good legs and so I made it all the way to the finish.?
Devolder denied that his attack blocked Tom Boonen?s chances of winning.
?My attacked was perfect for Tom because if they caught me he?d was the fastest in sprint and they were all scared of him. He could have won but I stayed clear because I was the strongest.?
Devolder loves a hard race and predicted he could also be a contender in next Sunday?s Paris-Roubaix if the weather is as wet and nasty as in Flanders.
?If the conditions are the same, it?ll be a similar kind of race. It?ll be hard and the selection will be made at the back of the bunch, as riders drop out, like today.? At the end of the day the strongest rider will win.?
A BELGIAN CHAMPION IN FLANDERS
There can surely be no finer sight to a Belgian cycling fan than that of one of their own powering towards the finish line of the Tour of Flanders wearing the red, black and yellow jersey of national champion.
Perhaps Tom Boonen would argue with that, seeing as he won the Tour of Flanders wearing the rainbow jersey in 2006.
But Stijn Devolder carried the national colours to victory yesterday to become only the fourth reigning Belgian champion to win the Tour of Flanders since the Second World War.
BELGIAN CHAMPIONS WHO WON FLANDERS
2008 Stijn Devolder
1993 Johan Museeuw
1985 Eric Vanderaerden
1959 Rik Van Looy