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News feature, March 3, 2008

De Jongh puts Quick Step back on the podium in Belgium

By Brecht Decaluwé in Kuurne

Steven De Jongh (Quick Step)
Photo ©: AFP
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By beating Dutch compatriot Sebastian Langeveld in a two-man sprint, Steven De Jongh (Quick Step), the 34 year-old rider from Alkmaar, grabbed his second victory in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a race that traditionally offers a chance of glory to the teams that did not fare so well one day earlier in the arguably more prestigious event, Omloop Het Volk.

In Belgium's big opening weekend of racing in 2008, Quick Step was left behind on Saturday as a dominant Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) took out the opening race, but it bounced back with a great team performance on Sunday. One year earlier, the team did the same with a victory from Tom Boonen in Kuurne after a lesser day in the Omloop.

The Belgian team dominated the 2008 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne by putting seven riders - minus world champion Paolo Bettini who crashed out after 9km - deep into the finale. Domestiques Jurgen Van De Walle, Maarten Wynants, Matteo Tosatto and also De Jongh worked hard to create a selection before the local laps around Kuurne. The big guns in the group left fighting for the victory contained Tom Boonen, Belgian champion Stijn Devolder and Gert Steegmans, all with Quick Step.

All had their chances to win, especially since Devolder and Steegmans reacted to every attack, while Boonen was prepared for a bunch sprint. "I was surprised nobody attacked until the final lap," De Jongh said of the finale. "We had done a lot of work in front and were getting tired. The other guys couldn't react to every move and especially when Leif Hoste (Silence - Lotto) and Steegmans went it was close."

"Sometimes you need to be an asshole and sit on the wheel of someone."

- Steven De Jongh explains how team tactics made him sit behind Rabobank's Sebastian Langeveld.

Eventually, it was the canny Dutchman, De Jongh who took the lucky number as he sat on Rabobank rider, Sebastian Langeveld, when the latter attacked in the last of three local laps. "I sat on his wheel," De Jongh smiled, "so what could I do but follow." Langeveld seemingly didn't mind too much and continued his strong effort off the front, and going into the final kilometre it was clear the duo would be sprinting for the victory.

The pressure to finish this dominant situation was completely on De Jongh's shoulders but the likeable Dutchman wasn't overly concerned. "We're used to that pressure in our team. The last time I won here [in 2004] I was very nervous. I remember I was shouting to my team-mates that they had to keep it all together because nobody would beat me; it was a cold and wet day and eventually I beat Bettini and O'Grady in a bunch sprint," De Jongh said of his earlier victory. These days, De Jongh isn't chasing personal glory as much as he now enjoys his role as team player in the Quick Step lead-out train of Tom Boonen.

"I'm at an age now where I began to enjoy the work for others. By being in a dominant team everybody has his chances to claim a win once in a while. Sebastian understood that I couldn't take pulls and decided to continue pulling. Sometimes you need to be an asshole and sit on the wheel of someone. Luckily for me, Sebastian continued to ride because I've could've been in front with someone who thought: 'hey, that's De Jongh, I'm not going to work for him'," De Jongh said of the final kilometres. "I had a hard time when he attacked at first and if I would've taken pulls he certainly had a chance in the sprint."

The podium in Kuurne
Photo ©: AFP
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"I'm so proud on this victory. The team was in top form and today we demonstrated excellent teamwork," De Jongh said. The Quick Step rider was also asked about the team's performance in the Omloop Het Volk, but De Jongh didn't spend too many words on the issue. "Yesterday we didn't talk much about it, only this morning during the team meeting. What reactions would we have received if we wouldn't have chased the breakaway group?" De Jongh bounced the ball back. "The group would stay away and even Gilbert wouldn't have won. The race would've been violated," De Jongh said.

Winner De Jongh dedicated his victory to his three year-old son Jorne who only broke his leg last week. "On Friday I was joking with my wife and she said I should dedicate a victory on Saturday or Sunday to him. He went down during a game between PSV and Ajax [the top Dutch soccer teams] in our garden. It's hard for such a young kid to stay calm. Maybe he'll step away from soccer now," De Jongh said. "I can't tell you the result of the game since it was postponed after the incident for at least two months," he laughed.

For the upcoming races, De Jongh will be alongside Boonen for most of the time and next week they'll train together in Monaco. "It's the goal to let us ride together, but I'm not sure. I asked to ride Tirreno-Adriatico because I saw that Paris-Nice is more difficult this year. On Friday we're leaving for Monaco to train in the hills and then we're getting ready for Paris or what is it?" De Jongh wondered aloud of the next races on the calendar (Tirreno-Adriatico starts in Civitavecchia, near Rome next to the Tyrrhenian Sea).

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