RUMILLY, France (VN) — Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) is building towards that magical form that saw him nearly win Paris-Nice in March. It was all about Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) on Thursday at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but three months ago, Westra threatened to take the Paris-Nice overall from the former.
Westra blasted clear and won the Mende leg of the “Race to the Sun” ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Wiggins. After the stage, he stood only six seconds back in the overall and worried Wiggins. He went out strongly on the final mountain time trial, but was unable to match Wiggins, losing two seconds and settling for second overall.
Before turning pro, Westra briefly gave up cycling and worked on the roads. The result would’ve been hard to imagine when he was roadside in The Netherlands far north, near his hometown of Friesland.
“He gives all,” Vacansoleil’s sports director, Michel Cornelisse told VeloNews. “He knows how hard it can be outside of cycling.”
Westra is a fourth-year pro for Vacansoleil, but it’s only as of this year that his name has caught fans’ attention. He followed his Paris-Nice second place overall with second in the Three Days of De Panne and, ahead of the Dauphiné, second overall in the Tour of Belgium.
“But the Tour of Belgium is not the Dauphiné,” Westra said. “My condition is getting better and better. I think that in the Tour after two or three weeks it will be OK.”
Westra suffered a bit on the first road day in the Dauphiné, losing ground with Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan). Cornelisse believes it was because he hadn’t raced up big hills since the Tour de Romandie at the end of April.
The time trial didn’t go well, either. Yesterday, Westra, who will represent The Netherlands in the Olympics TT, lost 3:22 to Wiggins. Like Schleck, he blamed the strong wind and a poor choice of wheels. He used a carbon tri-spoke in front.
“It is good training for the Tour and Olympic Games,” Westra added. “It’s better to deal with the wind and rain here than at the Tour.”
“He’s very skinny, it’s better to have the sun,” Cornelisse explained. “He can always have a bad day. The Dauphiné is important, but it’s still not the Tour.”
Westra will help Wouter Poels, who placed second in Luxembourg, in the overall classification at the Tour. The team will also rely on 25-year-old Rob Ruijgh, who placed 21st last year.
“The Tour is full of surprises. No one talked about Thomas Voeckler last year and he was almost on the podium,” Cornelisse continued.
“A stage win, maybe a top five in the time trials would be good for Westra. You saw how he won his stage in Paris-Nice, on the uphill in Mende? So, anything is possible.”
Westra added, “If I have the condition I had at Paris-Nice, everything will be possible.”