Lotto-Belisol banking on youth over experience in the Ronde van Vlaanderen
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Friday, March 30, 2012

Lotto-Belisol banking on youth over experience in the Ronde van Vlaanderen

by Ben Atkins at 9:56 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Spring Classics
Belgian ProTeam without a big favourite for the first time in years; expects young riders to mix it up

Jens DebusschereLotto-Belisol will start Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen with its youngest, and most inexperienced team for many years. The big Belgian ProTeam last won the race in 2003, through Peter Van Petegem - who also went on to take Paris-Roubaix a week later - and also won in 2000 with Andre Tchmil; it also regularly made the podium throughout the last decade, through Van Petegem, Leif Hoste and Philippe Gilbert.

The team has changed a great deal in recent years however, and, after the split with co-sponsor Omega Pharma over the winter [which eventually went over to the team’s big Belgian rival Quick Step - ed] most of its Classics favourites have since departed.

Van Petegen has, of course, long since retired, but veteran Hoste - after spending last year with Katusha - will lead the Verandas team, while Gilbert is now with BMC Racing. The natural favourite to lead the team in the Cobbled Classics would be former Belgian champion Jürgen Roelandts, but the 26-year-old is still recovering from the fractured vertebra that he suffered in a Tour Down Under crash.

“We start with a team where we are giving some youngsters the chance to explore the unique Ronde van Vlaanderen atmosphere, and gain experience for the future," explained team manager Marc Sergeant in Het Laatste Nieuws. "They’ll get a free role and should certainly be mixing it with the breakaways.

Five of the team’s eight-man roster rode the mid-week Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, with Jens Debusschere, Frederik Willems, Kenny Dehaes, Jonas Vangenechten, and Marcel Sieberg as the only non-Belgian in the line up. Missing though, are the team’s big sprinter André Greipel - who struggled to get results in the Driedaagse and is sitting out the Ronde to remain fresh for Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs - and 21-year-old Tosh Van Der Sande - who took the climber’s jersey after being in the stage one break.

Although he is an obvious talent, neo-pro Van Der Sande is clearly too young for the demands of what is arguably Belgium’s biggest sporting event. Despite the overall inexperience of his riders however, Sergeant does expect the two senior members of the team to feature in the race, as well as one of his most promising youngsters.

“With Marcel Sieberg and Frederik Willems, we have experienced riders at the start, who will play their role deep into the finale,” he said. “Jens Debusschere has put a period of illness behind him and hopes for a strong performance. He was built for this kind of race and his chance may come.”

Lotto-Belisol for the Ronde van Vlaanderen
Gaëtan Bille, Sander Cordeel, Jens Debusschere, Kenny Dehaes, Gert Dockx, Marcel Sieberg, Jonas Vangenechten and Frederik Willems


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