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By Andrew Hood
It’s not often you see Gert Steegmans first in line.
Since last season, the 6-foot, 3-inch Belgian has often been second in line at Quick Step, developing into the preferred lead-out man for cycling superstar Tom Boonen. Before that, he was the pilot for Robbie McEwen at Silence-Lotto.
The soft-spoken Steegmans is never one to shove his way into the limelight, but when he won Stage 2 in last year’s Tour de France, he couldn’t help but get noticed.
This season, Steegmans is getting more freedom to ride for his own victories.
He’s already won a stage at the Challenge Mallorca in February and then bounded to a huge win in Monday’s weather-shortened march across Europe’s worst winter storm.
With Steegmans in France, Boonen is heading to Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy where he’ll hone his form ahead of Milan-San Remo.
With Boonen in Italy, Steegmans in France, are cycling’s best 1-2 avoiding each other?
Steegmans, 27, cautioned that journalists shouldn’t read too much into it.
“It’s not like it’s been something planned,” Steegmans said when VeloNews asked about his higher profile. “It’s just happened like this during the spring that Tom and I are riding in different races. When the big races come around, I will be with him and helping him.”
Steegmans promised that when Quick Step lines up for Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the entire team will be working for Boonen.
“The team went to Qatar and I said, ‘No way am I going back because there are too many crashes,’” he said. “Then Tom went to California and I went to Mallorca. We were together in Belgium for the start of the classics at Het Volk and Kuurne (Brussels-Kuurne), which is normal. Tom was supposed to be here at Paris-Nice, but then he decided it was better for him to race in Tirreno instead. It’s just happened that way.”
In the meantime, he’s making the most of his opportunities.
On Monday, his Quick Step teammates just drilled it to blow up the peloton and set up Steegmans for a tidy win on a rising finish to give him his second victory in 2008.
“I was very happy to win because (Monday) was probably the only sure stage that would finish in a bunch sprint. My team worked to perfection for me and I’m glad I was able to deliver the win,” he concluded.
“I know the climbers were really worried about (Monday’s) stage, but I know I will be feeling the same way when we head up Mont Ventoux later this week.”