Thomas De Gendt may have already been top of the leaderboard for the most race days for this season but even then when the Lotto Soudal rider got the request to add eight more, so he could take on the Tour de Langkawi, the answer was yes.
The Belgian rider was even already on his winter break, having finished after GP d’Isbergues mid September, but a trip to Malaysia – where he had never visited before beyond an airport stop over on his way to the Tour Down Under – was enough to bring him back.
“I stopped my season because I already had 89 race days and the UCI only allows you to have 85,” De Gendt told a pre-race media briefing. “So, I stopped my season, but we are doing 4 races at once so we just needed the riders.”
“They gave me the opportunity to come here and I always like to do the more exotic races so I restarted training again,” said De Gendt. “It wasn’t planned at the beginning of the season, even at the end of the season but why not.”
De Gendt certainly isn’t unaccustomed to big seasons as even though this year he may have had a heavier load of race days than his fellow WorldTour professionals, it doesn’t even count as his biggest year. In fact the rider who has 23 Grand Tours under his belt managed to creep up to 100 in 2012 and 94 in 2019.
This year, too there was a good reason for the team that he is signed with for two more years to have a packed race schedule, with the squad’s race calendar for the next week including the the Tour de Langkawi, the Giro del Veneto, Japan Cup, Chrono des Nations and Veneto Classic.
As the end of the season approached a battle to avoid relegation loomed, with only the top 18 teams set to claim WorldTour status in 2023, so it made sense to sign up for as many races as possible to gather as many points as possible.
That battle, though, now appears to be lost for Lotto Soudal who may only be one place away from the top 18 but with a huge gap in points to that coveted WorldTour position.
“I think it is already a done battle. We are more than 1000 points behind,” said De Gendt. “I think most of the team could already feel one/two weeks ago that it would be difficult to stay in the WorldTour. But we still kept the same programme and we made a decision to come to this race.”
“We could have said because we are out of the points we will not come here anymore but we still want to honour this race and we are here with a motivated team … we still have riders that we want to be here for the victory – the points, they were not the only motivation to come here.”
Alongside De Gendt for Lotto Soudal in Malaysia is Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, who the team are likely to be working for in the sprint stages, Carlos Barbero, Jarrad Drizners, Sylvain Moniquet and Rüdiger Selig.