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VISEGRAD, Hungary (VN) — Thomas De Gendt is the peloton’s master breakaway artist, but throughout this Giro d’Italia, he’ll be using all of his racing skills and acumen to make sure none of them arrive to the finish line.
In what’s an odd twist of fate, for the next few weeks, he will be chasing down the breakaways instead of riding into them to make sure his Lotto-Soudal teammate Caleb Ewan can win as many times as possible in the bunch sprints.
“I am here to control the breakaways,” De Gendt told VeloNews. “I know everything about the breakaways and how they work, so it easy for me to chase them. It is a similar effort to being in the break, and that is my job on the team to make sure we catch them in time so that Caleb has a chance to win.”
This Giro represents a crossroads of sorts for the popular 35-year-old master stage-hunter who’s made a career of winning out of exquisitely crafted breakaway efforts.
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From Mont Ventoux to the Passo del Stelvio, De Gendt’s won on some of cycling’s most iconic climbs and summits in his 16-win career haul.
“I know everything about the breakaways. I know when they will speed up and I can think about what I would do in their place, so we can speed up in the back so that the difference doesn’t grow that much,” he said. “It’s good to use my experience in this way also.
“It’s difficult for myself to win, but in this way, I can help the team win, so that’s also important.”
Chasing WorldTour points: ‘We prefer to stay in the WorldTour’
Yet instead of chasing victories for himself, he will sacrifice his chances to help Ewan and the team in a bid to win stages and rack up UCI points.
“I don’t know if there are a lot of chances for me because I have to work for Caleb,” he said at the start of Friday’s stage. “Our biggest goal is to win stages with Caleb. He is one of the fastest sprinters and I think we have some really good chances in the next two weeks, and we will try to win as many as possible.
“It’s different for me, but if Caleb wins, it’s still a good job to do, and Caleb is also very grateful, so it’s something nice to do.”
🏁60 km to go, breakaway holds a 2′ advantage
— Lotto Soudal (@Lotto_Soudal) May 6, 2022
Lotto-Soudal is languishing near the bottom of the team rankings, and with the possibility of relegation out of the WorldTour for the bottom-ranked teams ahead of the 2023 season, the team is putting everything behind Ewan and a bid to win stages across the sprints in the front half of the Giro.
“Now we only race to win and we try to win as many races as possible,” De Gendt said of relegation. “Usually when you win a lot of races you have a lot of points, but other teams are doing better than us right now. We will try to win races now and then at the end of the year we will see if it is good enough to stay in the WorldTour or not.
“With the UCI you never know, they can change their own rules,” he said. “Maybe they can decide to put in 20 teams in the WorldTour, or maybe it’s 16 and four teams go out. With the UCI, you never know.”
Lotto-Soudal recently signed two riders to bring onto the team to provide some fresh legs going into the grand tour racing season, in part to fill out the squad’s beleaguered roster but also in a move designed to secure more UCI points.
De Gendt said everyone on the team is well aware of the team’s uncertain WorldTour status.
“Right now, it’s the last two teams go out of the WorldTour, but then you are still at the top of the second tier already, and you can still do all the WorldTour races anyway without the obligation to even ride them, so we can cherry pick the races we want to do.
“That’s a really bad situation, but we prefer to stay in the WorldTour.”
The pressure is on to win, from De Gendt controlling the breakaways, to riders like Roger Kluge to set up the sprint, and on Ewan to win.
The team’s future could depend on what happens the next three weeks.
Chasing a contract: ‘I hope to keep racing’
De Gendt is also off contract at the end of 2022, and wants to stay in the game.
“If it’s possible, yes I want to keep racing, but it’s not always in your hands,” De Gendt said. “If you do not get a contract, it’s finished. You have to prove yourself every year in this sport.”
Yet he knows that his own chances of results are diminished when he’s committed to helping the team’s sprinting efforts. De Gendt confirmed to VeloNews he will not race the Tour de France for the first time since 2014, and remains unsure about the Vuelta a España.
“I have no contract at this point. I still have to find a contract on this team or another team if I want to continue racing,” De Gendt said. “I will need to have some good results in the next coming weeks, but it’s not so easy when you are having to work for the team for the whole.
“I hope the team sees this also, and they give me a contract and they can also look at my results that I have also done in the past. I will know more in the next three or four months for sure.”