De Gendt conquers KOM jersey at Vuelta
Saturday's stage will be decisive
The past three weeks, the Lotto Soudal riders animated the Vuelta as they were part of the break of the day in several stages. The attractive and combative way of racing was rewarded with a stage win by Jelle Wallays and a first place in the KOM classification by Thomas De Gendt. Yesterday, De Gendt secured his polka dot jersey and became one of the eight Belgian cyclists who’ve ever won the jersey in a Grand Tour. Thomas De Gendt and sports director Mario Aerts look back with satisfaction on the past three weeks and the performances set by the entire Lotto Soudal team.
Mario Aerts, sports director Lotto Soudal: “We came to this Vuelta with one main goal, which was to take a stage. Now, we’re not only going home with that desired stage win, but with the polka dot jersey as well. It’s incredible! We took part in many breakaways and really put ourselves out there. From the very beginning of this race, it was our intention to attack as much as possible, and eventually, our attempts paid off. The stage win of Jelle Wallays was therefore definitely a climax. It was unexpected that he would stay ahead of the chasing sprinters’ teams, but he did it anyway. It’s definitely a memorable victory!”
“The fact that we also get to take home the polka dot jersey is really the icing on the cake. It has been a long time since a Belgian won one in a Grand Tour, so it’s quite impressive. Initially, the KOM classification wasn’t a specific goal of the team, but Thomas always gives his all for these sorts of classifications and eventually, he became a contender for the polka dot jersey. The more points he collected, the more we started aiming at the KOM classification. For sure, it wasn't easy to conquer the jersey and it was a battle till the penultimate stage, but luckily, Thomas kept performing strongly.”
“Neo-pro Bjorg Lambrecht has set a strong performance as well. We came to this race as a team without any ambition for the GC, so everyone in the team was allowed to take his shot. Therefore, I was happy to see that Bjorg also took his chance and finished in fourth place in the thirteenth stage. Finishing two times in the top ten is quite an impressive result for a 21-year-old rider. During the two weeks he participated in this Vuelta, he learnt a lot. He might have wanted to stay a bit longer, but he’s still very young and had to focus on the World Championships. He can look back on his first Grand Tour with satisfaction and hopefully, he will reap the rewards from his participation in Innsbruck later this month.”
“Victor Campenaerts really showed he’s much more than just a good time trialist. He attacked several times and came very close to a stage win. Tiesj Benoot had some bad luck with his crash as he was forced to take antibiotics and didn’t feel well for a few days - not ideal in a Grand Tour, where your body has to rest as much as possible to recover properly for the next days. Though, he still managed to play an important role for the team, especially towards the end, when he was able to help Thomas in defending his polka dot jersey. Hence, he finished this Vuelta with a good feeling. He, just like every other rider in the team, contributed to this incredible three weeks of racing. We definitely have a reason to celebrate!”
It’s a jersey I’ve fought for in several other Grand Tours, so I’m really happy I finally can take this one home.
Thomas De Gendt: “I’m very proud of this jersey. It’s a jersey I’ve fought for in several other Grand Tours, so I’m really happy I finally can take this one home. As it was really hard to win a stage, I started focusing on the KOM classification from the thirteenth stage onwards. Initially, the polka dot jersey wasn’t a goal as Maté was also very strong. It was very hard to deny him any points at the beginning, so I had to wait until later in the race, on moments where there were more points to earn. From the moment Maté got ill, I had to make sure to attack, be in the break of the day and collect as many points as possible. In the seventeenth stage, I was the first to reach the top of five climbs and earned 25 points. Looking back on it, it was a decisive stage for my KOM victory.”
"I joined the breakaway in seven stages. And if I wasn’t part of the break, I tried to escape the bunch at the beginning of the stage and take some points at the first climb. Though, I’m very good at choosing the right breakaway, it was definitely not easy to get in the break each time. But most of the times, you’re able to go clear if you really want to. And of course, when you’re finally part of the breakaway, you still have to be capable of reaching the summit as first. Luckily, my legs felt very strong, especially in the final two weeks. I wasn’t at my best in the first week, but after the rest day, it kept going better and I gave my all to be part of the following breakaways.”
“It was a thrilling battle for the jersey until the penultimate stage. Mollema was in the break of the two final stages as well, so I had to make sure to be ahead of Mollema at every single KOM-climb. Yesterday, I had to let him go at the end, but I know he had to win the stage if he’d still wanted to win the polka dots. Yet, Mollema is a strong rider, so you never know and I have to say that I was relieved to find out he wasn’t the first rider to cross the line. We’ve had three very good weeks. The atmosphere in the team was really nice and the stage win of Jelle took away a lot of pressure. The polka dot jersey is of course a really nice reward as well and I think we can definitely be proud of our Vuelta!”