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Interview: Dimitri Claeys Takes Us Inside His Classics Campaign

Following on from our interview after Omloop, the Wanty-Groupe Gobert classics man talks us through his experience of the Flemish Classics including a top ten at De Ronde

Four weeks ago, Dimitri Claeys told us that he was disappointed with twelfth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, that he was targeting top tens in De Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix and that he had a massive block of training planned to get there.

Catching up with him on a flying a visit back to his native Gent, sandwiched between taking eighth at Tro Bro Leon and braving the additional security at Brussels airport to go for a few days warm weather training in Spain, he tells us what it's like inside the final of a monument, demonstrates his incredible drive and shares the lessons he learned from his first classics campaign.

PM: Last time we talked you said you had a big training block planned to get ready for the two Flemish monuments. How did that go?

DC: "I trained really hard in the weeks after that. If I was at home, i'd be doing six or seven hour rides. When I was away at races, I'd do the stages then do fifty or sixty kilometers extra afterwards. For Dwars Door Vlaanderen I had the feeling that maybe i'd done too much. My legs weren't fresh and I wasn't feeling in good shape. I went into E3, which is the easiest of those races to get a result in and I think I finished 80th or something."

PM: So at that point, do you start to worry? Is it tough on the confidence to not be going so well so close to your big goals?

DC: "The week after Dwars Door Vlaanderen, I just had three or four days of really doing nothing. Just a lot of time on the sofa. That week was quite tough mentally, just to not be doing anything after two bad races. We did a recon of RVV early in the week before the race and I felt the legs were coming back a little bit. It was hard after those races, though, because I know I can ride those hills a lot harder than I did on those two days, that's a shit feeling."

PM: In Flanders you attacked with about 80km to go, did you plan to attack in that spot before?

DC: "No, I actually wanted to go a bit later but that was the moment. The first 140km, the speed was crazy, it was always full on. There were four or five bunches on the road... Some really experienced guys told me afterwards that it was the hardest classic they'd ever done.

Then you get that moment where it finally starts to calm down and the peloton takes the foot off the gas. In that 10km or so, you can take two or three minutes for free. Then I thought I could stick with the big favourites when they came through on the last little lap, but they were just a little bit too fast.

On the last time up the Kwaremont, I thought I could stay with Sagan, but after the steep section he accelerated from 25kph to about 40kph immediately. Then I just had to do my own pace to the top of the Paterberg and pick up a group."

Ronde Van Vlaanderen.. Thru Patrick Verhoest's Lens! Patrick Verhoest

Patrick Verhoest

PM: You said in our last interview that you were expecting top tens from these races. Do you see De Ronde as a confirmation of your talent? The best ride you could have done on the day?

DC: "On that day, sure. But in general I expect much more from the Classics. You saw, the first two races I was bad, Flanders was good, Roubaix I had bad luck..."

PM: I saw you come through about six or seven minutes down on the leaders at Roubaix, what happened there?

DC: "Just a lot of bad luck. I got held up in one crash on an early section of cobbles when three Trek guys crashed on a downhill sector. Then I thought I had a good wheel going into Arenberg but I gave up fighting for position too early and thirty guys swarmed past me just as we were about to hit the cobbles. Then there was a crash in there and I was stood still for a full minute waiting to get by. Then the race is gone. I was still chasing all day. Later on, I saw Kristoff had a puncture and I thought 'maybe his teammates will wait for him and I can chase back with them' but by then they were just riding to the finish.

I think I can go back and do much better in Roubaix. I actually had a better feeling on the cobbles there than in De Ronde, I was feeling really good, but you need some luck. I look at Mathew Hayman and I can see I still have some time. I really think my future is in those races."

PM: This was your first time riding any of these races. Did you have a chance to look around and appreciate the moment in any of the races?

DC: "DDV and E3 I didn't enjoy at all. De Ronde, when you ride the Kwaremont and the Koppenberg at the front of the race... The Kwaremont was like a football stadium. Incredible."

PM: From a more professional standpoint, what did you learn about the classics from racing them for the first time?

DC: "That you have to fight all day to be in the first twenty riders. Enrico Gasparotto is so experienced at this and he told me that to win a big classic you have to be completely focused for the whole six hours. You can't make a single mistake, one little gap you have to close or something is one little bit of energy you don't have in the final. That's something i need to work at now, making sure I'm always in the front at the right moment, fight all day and don't lose energy.

This was my first classics campaign and I have maybe eight or nine more. If I can do all that, I can win a big race. This year was a good start."

PM: How was yesterday at Tro Bro Leon?

DC: "It's a very special race. There were a lot of French teams making the race hard the whole time. There were ten riders who broke away at the front and I just missed it, I was the last guy to make it across from the bunch. Baptiste Planckaert was in the break and had a puncture and I chased up to the break with him. By the time i got there, though, three guys had already attacked again.

The dirt roads were really nice. It was my first time riding there also, all the French teams know all the roads so by the time they're moving up before the next sector it's already too late. You're always one step behind. With Roubaix, I always knew what was coming but it's different again because there it's a World Tour race and you've got two hundred strong guys willing to fight for every place."

PM: So overall, are you happy with this years campaign?

DC: "I think I can do better. I mean, Flanders was good but I really think there's more to come from me. Sometimes you do everything right but you just don't get the 100% form when you need it. 96% or 97% is nice... but it's not enough to win big classics. "

PM: From the inside of the races, who are the guys who really impress you? Perhaps some people nobody talks about?

DC: "Ettix have guys who will just ride all day like Maes and Keisse. The teamwork of the big teams is really impressive too. Trek, Sky, Lotto-Jumbo. When you see them all so well organised and it looks so easy on the TV, but it's so hard to control a World Tour Race that way.

Wanty-Groupe Gobert were good too. In all the races we had at least one guy at the front of the race and we tried to take our opportunities where we could."

PM: What was the atmosphere in the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team for the second half of the Flemish classics after Antoine Demoitie passed away at Gent-Wevelgem?

DC: "That was really difficult. After DVV and E3 I wasn't feeling good, but then two days later  you get that news and it's just... unbelievable. It's hard, of course, but the only thing you can do is try to stay concentrated and do a good race for the family. As a rider, there's nothing else you can do.

It was really hard on the morning of  Ronde Van Vlaanderen, because were on the stage for the minutes silence and then you have to go back to the bus and refocus on the race. You can't go full gas onto a cobbled section or fight for position if you have those terrible thoughts in the back of your mind."