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Stijn Devolder eyes bigger prizes

Victory in Portugal’s five-day Tour of the Algarve bodes well for both the immediate and long-term prospects of rising Belgian talent Stijn Devolder. The former Discovery Channel rider is taking on an ambitious 2008 calendar that includes a detour through the cobblestones of northern France and Belgium before a run at the top-10 at the Tour de France.

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By Andrew Hood

Stijn Devolder at Mallorca Challenge earlier this month

Stijn Devolder at Mallorca Challenge earlier this month

Photo: Andrew Hood

Victory in Portugal’s five-day Tour of the Algarve bodes well for both the immediate and long-term prospects of rising Belgian talent Stijn Devolder.

The former Discovery Channel rider is taking on an ambitious 2008 calendar that includes a detour through the cobblestones of northern France and Belgium before a run at the top-10 at the Tour de France.

“This year I want to race the Tour for the first time,” Devolder told VeloNews. “I believe I can finish among the top 10. It’s a realistic goal because I’ve been progressing and improving each year.”

The 28-year-old has been nibbling at the edges of breakout success since turning pro with Vlaanderen-T-Interim in 2002, quietly making a name for himself as a rider who can do well both in the cobblestone classics as well as in time trials and GC.

Thanks to Belgian talent scout Dirk Demol, U.S. Postal Service picked him up in 2004 and Devolder was able to slowly build his experience base without stepping on any toes on the Tour-centric team obsessed with Lance Armstrong’s seven-year run in yellow.

His 11th place overall in the 2006 Vuelta a España indicated that the native son of Courtrai could do more than bash the pedals across the pavé or in time trials.

“I can get up the hills okay, especially if it’s a steady pace,” Devolder says. “I’m never going to be a pure climber, but I can defend against the specialists.”

Devolder saw more success last season, taking the overall at the Tour of Austria, third at Tour du Suisse, victory in the Belgian national championship as well as a short run in the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta.

Despite eventually abandoning the Vuelta, Devolder’s accomplishments of last year only fuel his ambition for 2008.

Both Demol and Devolder switched to Quick Step-Innergetic following the collapse of the Discovery Channel team. Demol will be working closely with Devolder to maximize his potential in both the one-day classics and stage races.

“He came into last year’s Vuelta without the best preparation. He had too many compromises before the race,” Demol said. “He’s learned that he needs to be completely committed if he wants to do well in a three-week stage race.”

Devolder’s win at Algarve was the 13th of his career and only the third stage race win. He scored his first in the Drie Daagse Van de Panne in 2005 and the Tour of Austria in 2007.

Devolder is hoping lucky 13 will morph into more wins. A training crash this week left him with a battered wrist ahead of the first cobblestone classics this weekend with Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

After Paris-Roubaix, Devolder will take a short break and reload for the Tour, something new for many in the modern Belgian peloton.

Armstrong used Algarve as test of his early season form in 2004 – he won the time trial stage – before winning his sixth Tour. Devolder is much more modest and is setting his sights on a realistic top 10 in what will be his Tour debut.

For Belgian fans, a top 10 overall in the Tour would be something to cheer for. After all, the last time a Belgian finished in the top 10 was Johan Bruyneel with seventh in 1993.