On paper it looks obvious: take one breakaway star and team worker like Thomas De Gendt to a Grand Tour like the Giro d’Italia, and when the stage is flat, he can ride for Lotto Soudal sprinter Caleb Ewan. Then in the hillier stages, the De Gendts of this world can go for wins from the breakaway.
In reality, it is not that simple, De Gendt told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 6, where he then spent a hefty percentage of the day pulling on the front of the bunch for Ewan.
“That [alternating racing for Ewan and racing for himself] is what the sports directors have planned. But it’s not easy to do if you have worked a lot of days suddenly to still be fresh [for breaks] and switch just like that,” the 35-year-old pointed out.
“The legs are not fresh anymore if you have pulled for three or four days in the first week, so that’s also what I told the sports director: either I work or I aim for breakaways.” But not, it seems, both.
Now racing his sixth Giro d’Italia, De Gendt’s one stage win in the race dates from 2012 when he won over the Stelvio and went on to finish third overall behind Ryder Hesjedal. He makes no secret of the fact that at some point, if possible, he’d like to add a fifth Grand Tour stage victory to his palmares this May.
However, on Thursday De Gendt was at the front of the peloton for much of the stage to ensure lone attacker Diego Rosa (Eolo-Kometa) did not fulfill a mission impossible and take a shock win from a breakaway on a flat stage.
It is not that De Gendt resents his job as a team worker at all, more that he knows his own limits.
“The job I do now, nobody in the team can do it better than me,” De Gendt told Cyclingnews. “I can pull 150-160 kilometers and if they ask somebody else in the team, maybe they can do it one day, but the next day they are cooked.
“So I think it’s a good job for me but maybe I have to wait for the second rest day,” when Ewan is expected to quit the Giro d’Italia, although it has yet to be confirmed. “But now it’s all about breakaway duties, pulling the breaks back instead of being in them.”
Regardless of how he gets on in the race, De Gendt has also been in demand at the Giro to talk alongside his namesake Aimé de Gendt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux) about the curious fact that two riders with the same surname are both racing the Giro.
Both have mainly team worker roles, as it happens, but the two told Eurosport on Thursday, that they have established their own not serious ‘De Gendt’ GC classification in private. In a ‘shock’ setback for Thomas, “I lost 12 minutes yesterday because I had to wait for Caleb on the climb,” he pointed out. But as Aimé, equally jokingly, put it, “my best results here are never going to match his third place in Giro. But it’s still a fun thing to do.”
Back with Cyclingnews, De Gendt said that does not spend any time at all reflecting on his one Grand Tour podium finish back in 2012, for all it is now exactly a decade since it happened. “As a rider, we tend to live things day by day,” he observed.
However, what he has had time to do is work out which stages would have been ideal for him to try to make it into the breakaway if he did not have team worker duties.
“There are some stages that could be very good for me: like Naples [stage 8, with multiple ascents of the Monte de Procida – Ed.] which will be hard to control because it’s never a long climb, never steep, but not easy to chase.
“That would have been a day I would have aimed for, but now obviously we have Caleb here. So for now I have to bring back the breaks.”
But after the Giro’s second rest day, though, who knows?