Ronde van Vlaanderen

Stijn Devolder. An amiable West-Fleming who fulfilled his boyhood dream twice

5min reading time   by Jordi De Koninck on 30 March 2022
The Tour of Flanders. For many riders an elusive dream, for a few the pinnacle of their career. Stijn Devolder belongs to that second group. In 2008 and 2009, the introverted West-Fleming finished an impressive solo on the Halsesteenweg in Meerbeke. A reconstruction.

Geraardsbergen, fifteen days before the 2008 Tour. While Fabian Cancellara writes Milano-San Remo on his palmares more than 1.200 kilometres further under a spring sun, Devolder prepares for his dream race on Flemish roads and in harsh weather conditions. He does so with his Quick-Step sport director, who is also his mentor, Dirk Demol. Due to the bad weather, they decide not to tackle the Muur. Even better. Demol told Volderke to get in the car and drive to Sint-Lodewijk, a small town near Deerlijk, where the West-Fleming lives. But Devolder knows what awaits him two weeks later and that he has to grind out some kilometres. So he drives in the direction of Sint-Lodewijk. A textbook example of 'the worker' in the West-Fleming and the drive to chase his boyhood dream. "When I was looking forward to something, I liked to have the feeling that everything was prepared down to the last detail," Devolder said more than a decade later.

When I was looking forward to something, I liked to feel that everything was prepared down to the last detail.
Stijn Devolder


Koksijde, April 2008, four days before the Tour. The second stage of the Three Days De Panne-Koksijde takes the peloton 228km from Zottegem to Koksijde. Mark Cavendish wins the sprint. Devolder finishes 60th, although that is only a footnote. To the dismay of soigneur Johan Molly, Volderke eats cod that night. After a race of more than 200 kilometres that is, according to Molly, later the discoverer of Julian Alaphilippe, not the most suitable food for a rider. Until the soigneur realises that the cod has been prepared by Stéphane Buyens, two-star chef of Hostellerie Le Fox in De Panne. Buyens tells Devolder that he will win the Tour if he eats cod. The rest is history. One year later the West-Fleming ate cod again during the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. He also won in Vlaanderens Mooiste.

First solo

6 April 2008, the day of the Ronde. It is cold in Bruges. The rain is dripping on the Belfry. Devolder, the personification of a true Flandrien, does not mind. A hard race plays into the hands of the Belgian champion. In the first part of the race, the rain even alternates with snow. At 40 kilometres from the finish Devolder slipped away from an elite group. The West-Fleming is accompanied by Hincapie, Kroon, Ballan and Langeveld. The cooperation between the leaders is not great and at the foot of the Eikenmolen, at 26 kilometres from Meerbeke, a total regrouping seems to be coming. But that is not counting on Devolder. Stijn unleashed his devils and in no time he had a lead of twenty seconds. Partly thanks to the excellent work of teammate, leader and top favorite Tom Boonen.

Without an earpiece

Devolder holds his own on the Muur. On the Bosberg, the last slope of the day, Langeveld comes awfully close. Devolder cracks, but does not break. On the way to Meerbeke he kept asking the bikers about his lead. Shortly before, the West-Fleming had pulled out his earpiece because the sticker had come off. This caused a lot of controversy later on. It was said that Devolder did not want to follow instructions anymore and did not want to wait for leader Boonen. "Especially in the media, the earpiece issue has started to lead its own life. Within the team there was never a word about it. Apparently people like to invent things they know better than the riders themselves," Devolder recalls. In the end Volderke had 15 seconds left on the Nuyens-Flecha duo. In the Belgian tricolour, the West-Fleming wins on the Halsesteenweg.

Two in a row

April 5, 2009, the day of the Ronde. In contrast to the previous year, the sun is shining. The temperatures are pleasant and there is no question of a Flandrien weather. However, there is one recurring factor: an explosion of Stijn Devolder. On a swirling Wall of Geraardsbergen, he rips himself loose from his fellow frontrunners with a burst of power. They listen to the names: Chavanel, Quinziato and Van Hecke. The three are not able to follow Devolder, let alone to keep up. Sport director Wilfried Peeters pushes his teammate one last time in the direction of Meerbeke. There Devolder writes cycling history. He succeeds himself as winner of Vlaanderens Mooiste. Only five riders preceded the West-Fleming in the glorious history of the Ronde: Romain Gijssels (1931/1932), Achiel Buysse (1940/1949), Fiorenzo Magni (1949/1950/1951), Eric Leman (1972/1973) and Tom Boonen (2005/2006). Fabian Cancellara would later join this list (2013/2014).

Looking to heaven

Perhaps even more beautiful than his victory, is the gesture of triumph Devolder makes at the finish in 2009. Pointing to the sky, he pays tribute to Frederiek Nolf. On 5 February 2009, exactly two months before the Ronde, the rider died in his sleep. Devolder was a good friend. "That gesture came straight from the heart. Frederiek was the first of several friends I had to leave behind. In 2011 Wouter Weylandt died after a heavy fall in the Giro and in 2018 I lost Michael Goolaerts after a cardiac arrest in Paris-Roubaix. Those were the darkest periods of my career."

After his second consecutive win, Volderke only stays in the supporters' room for 15 minutes. He finds it too busy there and decides to eat chips with his wife Tamara. A striking example of the family man in Stijn Devolder. "That was a moment for me to let everything sink in. Right after the race, you don't have time to think about what you've just achieved. You are dragged from here to there. The time I could spend with Tamara gave me peace. Even after his triumph on 6 April 2008, the attention immediately went to his wife Tamara. After the Tour, he waited for his partner at the hotel, all alone. "Tamara was very important in my career. She has experienced everything from close by. As a 'driver' you work day and night and it is crucial that you have someone around you who sympathises."

Stijn Devolder is still proud of his victories, but showing off? No, that does not fit the character of Volderke. The affable West-Fleming prefers to stay in the shadow.

Stijn Devolder

Stijn Devolder (born 29 August 1979) is a Belgian former professional road bicycle racer, who competed professionally for Vlaanderen–T Interim (2002–2003), Discovery Channel (2004–2007), Quick-Step (2008–2010), Vacansoleil–DCM (2011–2012), Trek–Segafredo (2013–2016), Vérandas Willems–Crelan (2017–2018) and Corendon–Circus (2019).
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