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Thomas De Gendt rides a bike like he has somewhere to be

26 Mar 2019

Words: Joe Robinson

You never see Thomas De Gendt taking it easy on the bike. Riding ‘tranquillo’, as they call it, surfing in the wheels, chewing the fat with his old mate Bart De Clercq about the old days, letting the others do the work.

When the peloton is on an easy day, De Gendt’s never the guy blocking off the front of the peloton, waving his hand for the pace to ease, letting the escaping minnows have their moment in the sun in the day’s break.

De Gendt rides as if he has somewhere to be. As if he needs to be home in time for tea, like he doesn’t want to watch Countdown on record because it’s much more exciting watching it live. Or he is almost certain he left the iron on.

The peloton knows it's coming but they seem almost powerless to stop it. ‘Maybe he will just sit up this time? Maybe he hasn’t got the legs today?’

Off he goes and then the next time they see him is at the end of the day, another opportunity missed, another relaxing day spoilt by Thomas.

Just look at him yesterday on Stage 1 of the Volta a Catalunya: classic De Gendt.

Covering 164km, five classified climbs but nothing too testing, not enough to trouble the best riders anyway. Prime ‘tranquillo’ territory. Let the break off the leash, take it easy, then turn it on in the last hour.

De Gendt had other ideas, Thomas had places to be as per. ‘164km? Just over four hours if I get a shift on, I reckon.’

Up the road he went with five others, scooping up all the mountains points while he was at it. The peloton thought they had De Gendt’s card marked, they were wrong again.

Four hours and 18 minutes later, De Gendt was crossing the finish line, two minutes and 38 seconds before anyone else.

It came at a price, of course. Pushing 324w - most decent amateurs' 20-minute power - for the entire day, pushing over 400w to get up the road, going back up to 400w to shrug of Luis Mate so he could be alone like he truly wanted to be.

But by the time the pack had crossed the line, Thomas had already sponged down his face, given an interview and was halfway through his recovery shake. Worth the pain, that early finish.

That could have quite easily been a boring stage. Same formulaic break going off and getting caught with about 30km to go before somebody like Patrick Bevin takes it from a reduced bunch.

But thanks to Tom’s aversion to the peloton, it wasn’t the same old, same old. Instead, it was an interesting game of cat and mouse where the mouse won, just like Tom and Jerry.

The peloton was Tom and Tom was Jerry and Jerry gave Tom his usual beating and we all enjoyed it. He does it time and time again. He’s made a career out of it. Riding alone ahead of everyone, it’s his USP.

In 2017, De Gendt rode 2,200km all alone, off the front of the biggest and best races in the world. He spent 10 days of the Tour de France in the break; 1,090km over three weeks, basically a third of the entire race. Around the same distance as London to Monaco ridden a few minutes ahead of the peloton.

It’s still a joke he never won the most combative rider of that Tour. Other riders will go their whole careers without doing that, let alone one race.

‘He is a strange guy!’ Greg Van Avermaet joked at the time. ‘He never does the logical thing. If he was not riding in the break, he was riding on the front of the peloton.’

He isn’t that strange, Greg. In fact, it’s quite normal, wanting to get all your work done so you can clock off early.

De Gendt’s best result ever came through his impatience, nipping off the front, deciding to climb the Stelvio all alone.

Switchback after switchback, no teammate to grab him a bidon or give a word of encouragement. No wheels to follow, no attacks to react to. If suffering was the lesson, De Gendt would have been the professor giving the lecture.

Before he knew it, he’d reached the finish line 56 seconds ahead of the next best rider, taken an iconic stage atop one of Italy’s most iconic mountains and finished third at the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

Not that De Gendt was aiming for that, he just wanted to finish work early.

Instead of letting third at a Grand Tour go to his head, trying and failing to repeat the success, De Gendt realised what he was best at, riding alone.

Instead of starving himself to make weight as a General Classification contender, he went on his honeymoon, put on 10kg, and just kept riding off the front alone, free from the trouble and strife that comes with Grand Tours. Just riding as fast as he can until he gets home.

As long as Thomas De Gendt has somewhere to be, he will be in a breakaway. And as long as Thomas De Gendt’s in a breakaway, otherwise beige bike races will be worth watching.

So keep it up Thomas, keep riding as if you’ve somewhere to be.