The Belgian legend shared his thoughts ahead of his 40th career start in a Monument.
Tirreno-Adriatico was a good race for me and the team. After being forced to miss the Opening Week-end and some days of training through illness, to finally be back in a race, add around 1000 kilometers under the belt and complete it was really satisfying. Even more satisfying was to get a win with Fernando, who once again showed his potential, making the best of the team's work on stage six.
I've always liked Tirreno-Adriatico, it's a nice race and works well as preparation for the Spring Classics. It's also the only Italian race in which I managed to score a win. Looking behind, it's strange to see that I got only one victory in this country, but I guess that's just the way things are sometimes in life.
I remember the day I won in Tirreno-Adriatico, seven years ago. It was in Montecatini Terme, I was Belgian Champion at that time and really motivated to score a victory, especially after the previous day the escapees gave the peloton the slip. I was well placed behind the Liquigas train and opened my sprint with around 250 meters left, passed my rivals and that was the story of the day. To finally break the ice on Italian soil made me very happy!
Now it's time for the season's first Monument and to be quite frank, I'm really excited about it. Milano-Sanremo was my first Monument in the Quick-Step kit, 14 years ago, and even though I've never won it, it's always been a special race. It's difficult to win it, every classic is that way, but Sanremo has something particular, it's as deceiving as a Fata Morgana, because it makes you live under the impression you can take the victory until the very end. I was on the podium twice, I remember having good legs in some years, but something happened, I was blocked, and it was all over. That's Milano-Sanremo: a 300km-long race which is decided in two seconds.
Sometimes, the first 200 kilometers of Sanremo go very fast, but when the wind is hard, some people are already exhausted before hitting the coast. It's also very important to adapt to the different situations which can occure, and to be capable of doing that shows the strength of a team. On paper, things are simple in Milano-Sanremo: you hope to be in the top positions on the Poggio and try to go up the climb and down to Via Roma as fast as possible. Problem is that every five or six years, something unpredictable happens.
It's no secret we have a good team and hope to get a nice result with Fernando, despite the fact he crashed Thursday in training. He's one of the most talented riders in the peloton, really feels the race and has the brains to make a decision in the important moments of a race. All these are the traits of a huge champion in the making. I hope that crash won't prevent him from featuring in the finale. On the other hand, we also have Julian and Philippe in the team, and their presence is sure to boost our odds.
For me, Milano-Sanremo will be a special moment, but not for the reasons you might think. In all fairness, I don't like to think every race I'm doing is the last of its kind and I'm really not aware of that, although riding in San Benedetto del Tronto on my time trial bike for the last time was pretty special, I'll give you that. A lot of guys came to wish me good luck in Tirreno-Adriatico, because they aren't doing the Classics, and it felt strange. Strange, because you are racing and they come to you to wish you all the best, and that's the moment you realize: "Damn, there's not so many races left."
I'm sure things will become even more awkward in April, before Flanders and Roubaix, but for the moment I don't want to think about it. I'm focused on two things: giving it my all in the coming weeks and the fun things I'll do.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele