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De Gendt sticks to his plan to focus on Giro instead of Tour, conquers Stelvio

PASSO DELLO STELVIO, Italy (VN) — Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) conquered the legendary Passo dello Stelvio in style today in the Giro d’Italia. The Belgian shot free on the feared Mortirolo and rode solo to win on Italy’s highest pass at 2757 meters.

In the process, De Gendt built up a healthy lead and threatened to take the overall leader’s pink jersey on the eve race’s final stage. Garmin-Barracuda kept him under control for Ryder Hesjedal, but it was close.

De Gendt proved something to himself even without the pink jersey. He stuck to his ideals and held firm on his plans to race the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España this year when team Vacansoleil wanted him in the Tour de France. The 25-year-old from Gent, made a date with his fiancée and said that they’d wed on June 30.

He and Evelyn Tuytens made their plans two years ago when he was still with second division team, Topsport Vlaanderen. They selected the date to mark their sixth year anniversary together. They didn’t know at the time that the Tour was planning to move its race forward to accommodate the Olympics or even if he’d have a chance to race the 2012 Tour. It only became an issue when he joined Vacansoleil and made a name for himself.

De Gendt won a stage in Paris-Nice and held off Andy Schleck to win a stage in the Tour de Suisse last year. This year, he won another stage in Paris-Nice and today, one of the legendary stages in a Grand Tour.

“I wanted to give something back to the team,” he said in a post-race press conference. “They weren’t happy I skipped the Tour, but they allowed me to stick to my ideals. I said I wanted to do the Giro to prepare for the Vuelta, to see how far to get in the Vuelta. I’m happy with my fourth position and I think I have a future in the Grand Tours.”

He attacked clear of the group with Hesjedal and race leader, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) on the Mortirolo. He joined teammate, Matteo Carrara who’d been in the front escape. He bridged and he left behind Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD).

The pressroom buzzed with talk that De Gendt, who finished fourth in the final time trial at the Tour last year, might take the race lead and threaten to win the overall tomorrow. At one point he gained 5 minutes, 30 seconds with six kilometers to race on the Stelvio, a gap that put him within 10 seconds of Rodríguez.

“My first thought was just to make sure I had a gap at the start of the Mortirolo so I could keep my eighth overall. I was scared of [John] Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Nieve. Only in the last 10K, did I start to believe in the stage win,” De Gendt continued.

He won by 3’22” and now sits in fourth overall at 2’18”.

“I don’t think I’m going to win the Giro, but I have a good chance for third. … I’m just happy to win on a big mountain like this. It’s amazing to be considered with the greats who’ve won on this mythical mountain.”

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