One trick ponies: The Curse of the Belgian Cobbles Specialists

I felt like I had to write this post after seeing Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder struggeling in this years Vuelta this season.
Let me explain what the Curse is... na de sprong.


(Photo used with permission via

In the last two decades a new trend has developed amongst Belgian Cobbles Specialists. They all start their careers as polyvalent riders who can win on several types of terrains, both in Belgium and abroad. But once they win a cobbled monument, they lose half their abilities. From that point they only perform well in cobbled classics (+the Worlds) and on Belgian soil. It seems like winning a cobbled monument makes them lose all their sprinting, climbing or TT-ing talents.

Some evidence:

  • Johan Museeuw: Started his career as a sprinter. He won stages in the TdF, in the Tour de Suisse and Paris-Nice, he even won the Amstel. Once he booked his wins in Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, he stopped winning sprints, stages in GT’s or other Pro-Tour stage races.
  • Peter Van Petegem:  Won several Spanish races at the beginning of his career and came close to winning two stages in the TdF. But once he started winning the cobbled classic, he stopped riding races abroad altogether, focusing solely on the Belgian spring and the Worlds.
  • Stijn Devolder: Won several stages and TT’s in races in Spain and France at the beginning of his career. He even finished third in a climby Tour de Suisse, but once he won Vlaanderen… you get the point. He no longer has the ambition of winning stage races and in the Vuelta TT, has anyone seen him? Since winning Vlaanderen, he seems to have lost al his climbing skills and most of his TT-skills.
  • Tom Boonen: Do I have to repeat myself? You see where I’m going. After two mediocre seasons, he really wanted to work on his sprint again to have a chance in the Worlds. But but when I look at his sprints in the Vuelta,… Oh boy… what happened to that sprint?


  • Fabian Cancellara: kept dominating the TT’s, even after winning Vlaanderen and Roubaix. He even won the Tour de Suisse after his first Roubaix win and booked an impressive (non TT) win in the TdF.
  • Alessandro Ballan: Won a mountain stage in the Vuelta after winning Vlaanderen, also won a pro-Tour stage race (Poland) and performs well in hilly Italian races.
  • Andrea Tafi: After winning Paris-Roubaix, he still won the Italian Giro del Piemonte and stages in the Vuelta a Burgos in Spain.
  • Michele Bartoli: Won Lombardy (several times), LBL, stages in the Giro, dozens of other races… after winning Vlaanderen.

Looks like winning a cobbled monument turns Belgian riders into one trick ponies, whereas riders from other countries keep on winning on different terrains and in several types of races.
Two questions: What causes this Curse? And has anyone got any solutions? We need them now, 'cause the Worlds are approaching quickly.

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