Dekker happy to be out of the wilderness and in the Ardennes

Dutch star won at Sarthe as comeback includes Giro

CHARLEROI, Belgium (VN) — With Liège-Bastogne-Liège on tap for Sunday, Thomas Dekker (Garmin-Barracuda) is thrilled to be back in the action at the hilly classics. Finishing in the front group at Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race was a personal confirmation that Dekker is back on track after a few years in the wilderness.

The 27-year-old Dutchman started the Netherlands’ most important race for the first time since he returned from a two-year doping stop for an EPO positive in 2007.

“It was amazing for myself, my friends and my family to be at the start line at Amstel Gold Race,” Dekker told VeloNews. “It’s really nice for me to be back in the sport I love.”

Dekker is racing in the spring classics for the first time since 2009, the same year he tested positive for an out-of-competition test that was collected in December 2007.

The Dutch rider has since confessed his errors and joined Garmin’s top pro team after racing the second half of the 2011 season with the team’s development squad.

Dekker said he’s thankful for his second chance and vows to race clean. At Amstel Gold, he hit the base of the Cauberg with the front group and rode to a respectable 18th at 12 seconds back.

“I made a good step at Amstel Gold Race. For me, I didn’t know what to expect, so it went ok,” he said. “I still missed a little bit of punch in the end. It was a long, hard race, and there were not so many guys there in the end, so I was happy.”

Dekker will finish out the Ardennes week and then race the Giro d’Italia in May, his first grand tour since the 2007 Tour de France.

“I am at a good level, but I am still not happy enough. I want to continue making progress,” he said. “Next I will ride the Giro and I hope I can continue to progress through the end of the season. I hope I can continue with all the good work.”

Dekker got a taste of victory already this season. He won his very first race with Garmin’s TTT win at the Tour of Qatar and rode discreetly through Paris-Nice, more intent on reaching the finish line than trying to go too deep in his first major pro race since 2009.

He broke out with a surprise victory in stage 5 at the Circuit de la Sarthe earlier this month in a warm-up for the spring classics and finished fifth overall.

“It was amazing to win again,” Dekker said. “After a long period to put my arms in the air again as a winner, I was so happy.”

On Wednesday, Dekker finished nearly two minutes off the pace at La Flèche Wallonne. He’ll make the start for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday before turning his attention to Italy, where Dekker will hope to raise his arms once more.