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"Even on the podium I still didn’t realize what I had achieved, but once in the hotel, when I saw the reactions of my teammates and the team staff… Yes I won. I won in the cycling country where I always wanted to win. I&rs...

Photo: Tim De Waele




28.02.2014 @ 12:07 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One year ago Luca Paolini realized a life-long dream when he won one of the major Belgian one-day races when he beat Stijn Vandenbergh in a two-rider sprint in a very cold edition of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Ready for tomorrow's title defence, the Italian took some time to look back at what happened 12 months ago.


Exactly one year ago Luca Paolini won the 68th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in extremely cold conditions. One year later ‘Il Gerva’ looks back. This time in the sunshine.


“I remember every detail, just like I remember everything from Milano-Sanremo," he said. "It was terribly cold. In extreme weather, cold or hot, it is all about the mental aspect. Your senses are so on the edge that you remember everything much better.


“Het Volk has always been an important test for me,” Paolini continues, referring to the old name still used by all cycling fans and riders. “For the first time you have an idea of how good your condition is. I also like the course and the unique atmosphere. The way the Belgian fans are cheering for you… you don’t see that at other races. The Belgian crowds always give me the feeling that I am a pro rider. I’m still dreaming of winning the Tour of Flanders. In 2007 I was so close, finishing 3rd. I would like to live that experience once again. It could happen this year.”


Luca Paolini recalls the race strategy.


“Before the start of Het Nieuwsblad we did not really have a leader. With Gatis Smukulis we had one of our riders in the early breakaway, which was good for me as I could go with the flow in the peloton but I knew I had to jump to the front earlier than normal because of the cold temperatures. If you wait too long you get chilled to the bone and then your race is over.


“With 58 km to go, on the Taaienberg I noticed the speed in the peloton let up, so that’s why I tried to get away with a small group.  I gave it a bit of gas on the climb and I felt I still had power in my legs. I saw the others suffering.  In those moments your morale gets a real boost,” Paolini said with a knowing smile.


“On the next climb, the Eikenberg, I saw Sylvain Chavanel attacking with Marco Bandiera but I knew immediately that it was too early to have success all the way to the end. My legs still felt good, so there was no panic, but when we caught the early breakaway at some 40 km from the finish, Chavanel was gone.  He took off.  Then I started calculating and panicking a bit more as I knew Chavanel’s Omega Pharma – Quick Step teammates in my group would protect him and not help me. Fortunately there was BMC rider Greg Van Avermaet. On the Molenberg he accelerated. Just two guys were able to follow him: Stijn Vandenbergh, and… me.  I was not worried about Van Avermaet but more about Vandenbergh because what I’d seen from him earlier in the day on the cobblestones and the climbs had already impressed me.  He was the man to watch. I got rid of my rain jacket, which is always a sign for me: now I go for it.”


A bit further along a ‘dying’ Chavanel was caught by Paolini’s small group, followed by a move from his teammate Vandenbergh.


“He accelerated on the cobblestones of the Lippenhovestraat with 30 km to go. Stijn really made the difference there. I was the only rider capable of following him. And suddenly just the two of us were left. I expected him to stop pedaling. He had to know that I am faster in the sprint than he is, so I was surprised to see he continued pulling until we had 40 seconds. Then I cooperated. On the cobbles of the Lange Munte, at 20 km from the end, he tried to drop me, but already at that point I noticed his sharpness had gone. I realized that not the strongest but the smartest guy, though strong as well, would win the race. We collaborated until the end. Stijn tried again to drop me on the cobbles at 2 km from the finish but it looked more like a last gasp of a dying swan.”


Luca Paolini saw the finish line ahead and mentally prepared for his effort.


“For the sprint I was still a bit nervous. After a hard race a sprint with two riders is always tricky. We were both out of energy, but I knew instinctively that I was the fastest of the two. With my experience I managed to let Stijn start the sprint and I passed him with 50 meters to go. Stijn is tall and I am small and I wanted to let him do the work against the wind as long as possible. Oh yes, I was smart. And I won….”


With pride Luca Paolini recalled the moment from the finish line.


“I knew immediately that I had won but I was still a bit confused in my head, surely because of the cold and the hectic race circumstances. Even on the podium I still didn’t realize what I had achieved, but once in the hotel, when I saw the reactions of my teammates and the team staff… Yes I won. I won in the cycling country where I always wanted to win. I’d dreamed of it. For so long…”


You can read our preview of this year's edition of the race here.



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