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"Now I have more confidence. It's not that I have now finished well in a lot of long classics but I notice that my base has become a lot broader," Slagter says

Photo: Sirotti






18.04.2014 @ 14:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After his excellent performance at Paris-Nice, the expectations for Tom-Jelte Slagter in his Dutch home country has grown rapidly ahead of Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. Despite the pressure from the local fans, the Garmin-Sharp rider remains modest and sets his sights on a top 10 finish.


For a few years, it seemed that Tom-Jelte Slagter would not live up to the great expectations that had been placed on his shoulders but after joining Garmin-Sharp, the Dutchman has obviously stepped up his level. At Paris-Nice he won two stages and would probably have won the overall if he hadn't had a mechanical in the final hairpin bend in the queen stage.


He proved that he had maintained his high level by finishing 2nd in the GP Miguel Indurain and went on to climb with the very best in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco where only the final time trial denied him the chance to finish in the top 10. The latter performance was very impressive as on paper the Basque race should be a bit too hard for Slagter.


Those performances have raised the expectations for the Garmin-Sharp rider in his home country. The Dutch fans are still searching desperately for a rider that can take the first win in their big event, the Amstel Gold Race, since Erik Dekker in 2001. And it is certainly true that Slagter has the right skills to excel on the short, steep climbs in Limburg.


However, Slagter has only done the race once when he finished 85th twelve months ago. At that point, he had quietly spoken about a possible top 10 finish but the long distance took its toll. Hence, he won't raise the expectations too much ahead of Sunday's race and his objective remains the same.


"Now I dare to say that the top 10 in Amstel is an objective," he told Wielerflits. "But I must also say that I am not in a position where I can say "I will finish in the top 10 because I have already done so four times." But with my current condition it is possible. So I will go for it."


Slagter still hasn't proved his ability in long races but his recent results have given him hope that he has now matured enough.


"Now I have more confidence," he said. "It's not that I have now finished well in a lot of long classics but I notice that my base has become a lot broader."


Slagter is a fast finisher but he admits that he needs to attack in the finale to win the race.


"I hope that the finale does not start too late, but not too early either," he said. "One hour before the end would be good. And I hope I can go with a small group where I am the fastest. That would be the ideal scenario for me. Last year Roman Kreuziger won in solo fashion. Perhaps no one expected it, but I think the new course lends itself to an attack."


Slagter doesn't expect to save everything for the final time up the Cauberg.


"It could be earlier, but then you need to have a strong group if you want to survive until the finish line."


Slagter has confidence in his sprint but knows that there are faster riders in the race.


"Usually it's good," he said. "But it depends a bit on your rivals. There are plenty of other guys with a fast sprint. I would prefer not to finish with riders like Alejandro Valverde and Michal Kwiatkowski, but they are among the best riders in the peloton. So I can't say beforehand that I will win a sprint."


Slagter points to Valverde and Kwiatkowski as two of the favourites but says that the list is a lot longer.


"I also think that Gerrans will be good. The same goes for Michael Matthews. And last Wednesday we saw that Gilbert is in good shape."


Slagter is not the Garmin-Sharp captain as he will ride alongside reigning Liege-Bastogne-Liege champion Dan Martin.


"We will talk about the roles later, but Dan has a proven ability to win. In these races he is of course the main man in the team. But because I'm in good shape and have obtained good results I think I will get my chance."


This year Martin's main goal is the Giro and so he is not yet in his best condition.


"But I do not think this makes any difference for us," Slagter said. "The roles remain the same. Even though he is not one hundred percent in shape, he still belongs to the better riders."


Slagter's manager Jonathan Vaughters has told Velonews that he thinks that his Dutch rider can win either Amstel Gold Race or Fleche Wallonne. However, he keeps his feet firmly on the ground.


" Of course it is nice when the big boss has confidence in you. Especially for the future. But whether I can win these races, I don't know. There a lot of strong riders that have already proven their skills. We will see. I have no idea. "


Slagter's best chance probably comes in Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne which suits him even better and where he doesn't have to deal with the long distance.


"But the goal is the same as in the Amstel Gold Race: to finish in the top 10," he said modestly.


After Niki Terpstra's win in Paris-Roubaix, Dutch cycling is flourishing and this puts extra pressure on Slagter's shoulders.


"Once it goes well in the Netherlands, everyone get very excited immediately. The expectations are adjusted almost daily. That's the way it is. But I'm just going to do my best. Then we see where I end up. Whether it's fifth, tenth or twentieth, some will be satisfied and some won't. It will always be like that."


After the classics, Slagter will go on to do the Giro where he has set his sights on a stage win.


'I think there is a stage win for me," he told Wielerrevue. "Several finishes should suit me perfectly, and I have to be super on such a day. I'm not saying I am going to win, but if everything goes well, I should be able to finish with the best. Especially after Paris-Nice, I really believe in it. When I won the first stage, you could still speak a bit about luck but the second time I beat them all. I think I have taken another step.


"I find that I'm getting better at riding finals. There is no other way to learn it than by doing it. Maybe some have a natural ability but I don't. I want to show myself, to make the race. But nine times out of ten you lose. Last year that changed a bit when I won the Tour Down Under. From that moment, I knew how it feels to win. Logically, places of honour don't count for much. What matters are the wins."



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