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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Thomas De Gendt back in winner’s circle a decade after Stelvio

A decade after winning out of a massive Giro breakaway, De Gendt proves he's still as wily as ever.

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NAPOLI, Italy (VN) — Thomas De Gendt came to the Giro d’Italia to chase down breakaways for Lotto-Soudal teammate Caleb Ewan, not ride in them.

Saturday’s climb-laden circuit course in and around this bustling port city saw De Gendt unleashed.

The Belgian star rode into a big move featuring Mathieu van der Poel and Biniam Girmay, and used all of his racing acumen to pick apart some A-list rivals to dash to victory in a four-up sprint.

“I actually thought it would be a sprint today, but it was much harder than it looked in the book,” De Gendt said. “After all the bad luck and crashes I’ve had, it’s emotional victory for me. It proves I have good legs and I am still capable of winning races.”

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The victory comes as a salve for De Gendt, 35, who told VeloNews at the start of the Giro that he is out of contract at the end of the season.

Saturday’s win was De Gendt’s second in the Giro, and his fifth career grand tour stage.

His first Giro stage came a decade ago in 2012, when De Gendt carved a name for himself with the mother of all breakaways at the 2012 Giro.

During that Giro, eventually won by Ryder Hesjedal, De Gendt drove into a big move up the “easy side” of the Stelvio, where he put the pink jersey under pressure and eventually earned himself a spot on the final podium in Milan with third.

Flash forward a decade, and De Gendt is still pulling off selected heists.

“It’s getting harder and harder to bet into a good break,” he said. “Today I had one of those really good days. I put all of my emotion in my final sprint. I could not fail, it was not an option.

“The last victory was last year, since then I didn’t have a good feeling, almost never feeling good. Also this year I was also sick and just not well prepared before a race. I was not in good shape two weeks ago.”

Over the past decade, the popular Belgian has since emerged as one of the most tactical breakaway artists in the peloton.

He showed off all of his skills Saturday on the technical, attack-laden circuit course in Napoli.

De Gendt powered into an elite breakaway group of about 20 riders that included Mathieu van der Poel and Biniam Girmay, two fast finishers he knew he’d need to drop to have any hope of winning.

With about 40km to go, De Gendt drove a wedge to Van der Poel to drop him, and dragged out Davide Gabburo (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Jorge Arcas (Movistar). Another key presence was teammate Harm Vanhoucke.

The leading four worked together to distance the remnants of the chasing break, including the hulking mass of Van der Poel. Initially, De Gendt was expecting Vanhoucke to attack on the climbs, but Arcas proved strong.

Coming into the final stretch, Vanhoucke gave him a leadout, and De Gendt wasn’t about to miss the opportunity.

“Normally in a break I have guys sitting on my wheel, but with Van der Poel there, they were watching him,” De Gendt said. “I had to take advantage of that.”

De Gendt on win: ‘Victories are the most important thing’

Thomas De Gendt celebrates victory a decade after his win on the Stelvio. (Photo: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)

De Gendt and Lotto-Soudal needed the win. With Ewan struggling so far in the bunch sprints, and the team not bringing a GC option, the Belgian outfit needs to win out of breakaways.

Saturday’s flowers will be a boon for Lotto-Soudal, which is also struggling in the race for points going into the next round of WorldTour licenses for 2022.

“The victories are still the most important thing,” De Gendt said. “Sponsors look more to the victories than a third, fifth and sixth place in a one-day race somewhere in France. I am sure they are more happy with victories. That is the aim of the team. We want to win, and win in a nice way, not only in the sprints, but also by attacking.

“In the end of the year, we will see if it is good enough to stay in the WorldTour or not.”

Right now, he will savor this rare victory, the 17th of his career, and his first in 2022. All of those wins, except two, have been in the WorldTour.

Sunday’s Blockhaus stage will be for the GC favorites, and then it’s back to break-chaser mode for De Gendt when the Giro resumes Tuesday.

“I think we can have chances for three more sprints next week,” De Gendt said. “After that, it will all be about the breakaways.”