By Lyndon Ferguson
Stijn Devolder. Remember him? He won the Tour of Flanders in 2008 and 2009. He was once described by CycleSport magazine as “a rider with legs that feel no pain, and a brain that knows no tactics.”
To the casual observer, this is a good summary of how Devolder races his bike. One can easily imagine his DS pulling up beside him in the team car and shouting “Stijn! Now I want you to ride the bike as fast as you can, and don’t stop until I tell you. O.K.? Go!”
However, this simple summary grossly underestimates the cunning of Stijn Devolder. You see, Devolder won The Ronde in 2008 after riding away from the field whilst all the other main contenders marked his highly fancied team-mate Tom Boonen.
Some might say he got lucky. That he never would have won had he not been on the same team as Boonen. Fair enough. But it was during the time following his win that he displayed his true genius. He raised riding with inconspicuous mediocrity to an art form. Sure he won the Tour of Belgium later that year (as I have just learned via Wikipedia) but he was largely a forgotten man.
Clearly, this peerless display of averageness was a clever ploy and highly successful. So successful in fact, that when he rode away from the field again in 2009 no-one thought it was worth following him. Again, all the main contenders watched his team mate Boonen and ended up scrapping amongst themselves for second.
By now, every cycling pundit was forced to agree that as a tactician, Devolder was up there with the greats. He had mastered the tactic of appearing like a hapless journeyman , getting on the team of the strongest guy in the race, and convincing the entire peleton that he was no threat. Twice. It was the cycling equivalent of the long con.
Henceforth, this race tactic would be simply referred to as a ‘Devolder’.
Which got us thinking about the upcoming edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Philipe Gilbert is starting to look very dangerous. The man who dominated the Ardennes in 2011 was showing some ominous form at La Fleche Wallone on Wednesday.
He goes into Sunday’s race as one of the favorites and will surely be a marked man. Which raises the prospect of one of his BMC team mates of doing a ‘Devolder’. We’d love to see Tejay Van Garderen have a go. The young climber has been threatening a big result, and the closing stages of Liege suit his abilities. He just might escape and stay away.
Is Van Garderen ready to pull a “Devolder” in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. We’ll know on Sunday is he’s that clever.