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Degenkolb focusing on sharp spring, elusive Tour stage win

The Giant-Alpecin rider won Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix last season, and he's ready to prove that was no fluke.

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John Degenkolb was the spring sensation in 2015, winning Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in dramatic fashion. In fact, he’s only the third rider to pull off that double in cycling history.

For 2016, the Giant-Alpecin rider is hoping to hit the repeat button across the spring classics, as well as finally win a stage at the Tour de France.

“I have a lot of motivation to once again show what I can do,” Degenkolb said at the team presentation over the weekend. “I have a great team behind me supporting me in the classics and at the Tour de France, and these are again my main goals.”

Degenkolb is already a confirmed winner in the spring classics, and he will be a marked man in 2016. Confident he can perform well in the one-day races, he wants to win a Tour stage. After coming close the past three seasons — with five second-places — Degenkolb hopes lightning will finally strike.

“I want to be in the best shape possible from Sanremo to Roubaix, and to get the maximum out of those races,” he said. “And then to target the sprint stages at the Tour, a goal of mine for three seasons now.”

Hunting for a Tour stage

Degenkolb is already Giant’s go-to man in the classics, and with the departure of Marcel Kittel to Etixx-Quick Step, there will be even more pressure on Degenkolb to deliver in the sprints. Last year, with Kittel out with illness, the team was riding for him in the sprints. Despite falling short of a stage win in 2015, with five top-5s, he doesn’t seem too phased by that prospect despite never considering himself a pure sprinter.

“I think it’s just a matter of time until I win a stage,” Degenkolb told German broadcaster DW. “I’m not going to drive myself crazy over it. I’m going to try to stay relaxed. Maybe last year, after such a successful spring, I simply wanted too much. Perhaps I was over-motivated.”

That ambition is what has propelled Degenkolb to the top of the peloton over the past half-decade. As a recruit at the High Road franchise, he gained experience that would pay dividends later. After joining Giant in 2012 (then Argos-Shimano), he’s developed into a major force in the classics, one-day races, and challenging sprint courses with uphill finales that favor his power.

By his own admission, he doesn’t have the pure speed of the likes of Kittel or Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish, but that hasn’t stopped him from winning sprints in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.

Although the Tour remains an elusive goal, first come the classics, and Degenkolb is motivated to reconfirm that 2015 was no fluke. He’s realistic enough to realize that winning one of the three spring monuments — Sanremo, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) or Roubaix — is tricky business, and he’s keen on doing everything within his control to be a protagonist in the major races.

“As in past years, my goal is to maintain top form from Milan-Sanremo to Paris Roubaix,” he told DW. “I’d like to be competitive in all those races and win one of cycling’s so-called ‘monuments.’ That’s my main aim. If it’s the Tour of Flanders, it would complete a triple, and that would be great. But if it doesn’t happen, it’s also not a problem.”

Worlds revenge

After the Tour, there are two more major targets for 2016: the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the UCI Road World Championships in Qatar. The former looks too mountainous for Degenkolb, while Qatar offers much more realistic options. He said he learned lessons from last year’s worlds in Richmond, Virginia, where he was a disappointing 29th.

“I think a medal in Rio is a bridge too far,” he told DW. “The rainbow jersey remains my big dream. … I think I need more of the measured calm I possessed at Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, where I didn’t get flustered and made the right decisions at the right times. I didn’t have that at last September’s world championship in Richmond. I let myself get lured out of my defense too early. I had to work too hard and fight the wind too much.”