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Alasdair Fotheringham

After riding to Spain through 47-degree heat, De Gendt turns to Pologne for Vuelta build-up

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Dstny)

Whatever happens between now and the end of October, it’ll have been a memorably different season for Thomas De Gendt. Barring surprises, the Lotto-Dstny rider will have had just one Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, on his schedule, with racing the Tour de France substituted by a 10-day ride to Spain from Belgium - with some sizzlingly hot temperatures en route, too.

Now back in racing at the Tour de Pologne, De Gendt last rode a single Grand Tour in a season in 2014 when he did the Giro d’Italia - which this year Lotto-Dstny did not race. Then he opted out of the Tour de France, telling his team he was “not ready.”

So this July, De Gendt and fellow Belgian Jelle Wallays (Cofidis) embarked on a 2,000-kilometre ride from Belgium to Calpe, which De Gendt says he found mostly enjoyable, even if the thermometer hit some unbearably high levels on one day.

“It was the day we left Andorra when we finished somewhere in Catalonia, so suddenly we went down from altitude and into a headwind for 20 kilometres with temperatures of 47 degrees,” De Gendt told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 1 of Pologne. 

“The other days it was only 35 degrees, so that felt a bit cooler. But that day with 47 degrees, that was horrible.”

Other than that, De Gendt said the ride was a good one, because “You act like you’re in a race and you’re riding for long spells. Then you’re in the hotel and try to find some good food, you have to wash your clothes yourselves, so you’re mentally in a race zone. And you just try and get enough food and enjoy the ride along the way.”

“It was a pity that we had headwinds all the time, but it was nice. We enjoyed ourselves.”

In agreement with cyclingnews, growing acclimatized to such extreme heat should come in useful in the Vuelta a España. It certainly beats Bradley Wiggins ‘homemade’ method of heat adaption to the Vuelta in 2011, when the Briton, who finished the race second overall, prepared by putting the rollers in his garden shed and then putting a couple of electric heaters at full blast.

“That’s why I stayed in Calpe after riding there, and I’ll go back there after this race to adapt to that heat again,” De Gendt told cyclingnews. 

As for getting into breaks in his fourth participation in the Tour de Pologne, De Gendt is guardedly optimistic but points to his team obligations as well.

“If there is a chance and I’m allowed, for certain I will try, but we have a few guys here who can do a good GC,” he indicated. “Lennert van Eetvelt is a young guy but he will try to see how far he can get in a race like this one.” 

Van Eetvelt, 22, has already shone in central Europe this summer in Romania where he won a stage and finished second overall, “and it’ll be good to see how good he is against the real GC guys. So we have to support him and then we have a sprinter that needs support,” De Gendt said.

De Gendt’s first race this summer since the Belgian Nationals in late June coincided with the return of his compatriot, Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-Soudal) to live action, in the World Champion’s case in the Clásica San Sebastian. Even before Evenepoel claimed a record-equalling third victory, De Gendt said if he was asked to lay money on a winner in the upcoming Vuelta, it’d be to back the same rider who triumphed there last year.

“It’s really too soon to say, but the guys who will be the best prepared for it will be Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Evenepoel…. I think in Jonas Vingegaard’s case, maybe the fatigue from the Tour will catch up with him, or maybe it won’t. I don’t know.”

“But if I really hard to bet I think it would be on Evenepoel. I think he will be the best prepared.” And after the results in San Sebastian, many people would likely follow De Gendt's betting preference for La Vuelta, too.

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