By Andrew Hood
Leif Hoste’s dream of winning the Tour of Flanders is turning into a nightmare.
Three times second in the past four years, Hoste has come as close as a Belgian rider can get to heaven without riding through the pearly gates.
“I don’t feel like the eternal second,” Hoste told AFP this week while racing at the Three Days of De Panne. “I don’t look back, but instead look forward. The previous editions of Flanders and Roubaix are behind me. Our team is significantly stronger than last year. In particular, I think Greg Van Avermaet is strong and a good attacker.”
Hoste might not dwell on the past, but if he doesn’t win Flanders in the next few years, he may well be remembered by his close calls rather than for his consistency and tenacity in Belgium’s most important race.
Three podiums is impressive stuff, enough to make any rider’s career, but Hoste wants that top step on the podium to cap what’s been an impressive presence in one of cycling’s monuments.
“I want to go back to Flanders and win more than ever,” Hoste told VeloNews earlier this year. “To be so close just makes me want it more.”
His second place in 2004 to Stefan Wesemann surprised everyone after he was away in the day’s main breakaway before latching on to the winning moves late over the Grammont wall.
In 2006, he drove the winning break only to suffer the bad luck of having Tom Boonen glued to his wheel. Last year, Hoste was the only rider strong enough to follow the blasts by Alessandro Ballan only to lose by fractions of an inch on the line.
Hoste has had a year to think about that final sprint.
“I was sure I was going to win, maybe too sure. I made a stupid mistake. I went too soon. Everything else that day was perfect,” Hoste said. “Oh, yeah, I think about it. I go over it a lot – boof – I was so sure I was going to win.”
Hoste, 30, vows to make amends Sunday, but a crash in the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne on Tuesday wasn’t the ideal preparation.
Silence-Lotto officials said Hoste wasn’t seriously injured in the spill, but even a few minor bang-ups can make a big difference in a race as long and challenging as Flanders.
“Flanders last year really devastated him, but I also think it also motivates him,” said Silence-Lotto sport director Hendrink Redant. “He has one of the biggest motors in the classics, but he’s strong in the head, too. In a way, it gives him a negative boost. It’s hard to lose like that, but he knows he’s strong enough to go for the win. That gives him the possibility to make him stronger.”
Helping Hoste will be a solid team of devoted helpers who want nothing more than to win Flanders for their publicity-shy, fun-loving captain.
Check the April 7 issue of VeloNews to see a full profile on Hoste.
Silence-Lotto for Tour of Flanders
Leif Hoste, Greg Van Avermaet, Wim De Vocht, Roy Sentjens, Gorik Gardeyn,
Johan Van Summeren, Wim Vansevenant (all Bel) and Maarten Tjallingii (Ned)