Lotto-Belisol “opens a new barrel of riders” for the Ardennes Classics
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lotto-Belisol “opens a new barrel of riders” for the Ardennes Classics

by Ben Atkins at 2:07 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Brabantse Pijl
 
Belgian team has fresh hopes after a barren cobbles campaign

gianni meersmanThe Classics season has not been a good one so far for Lotto-Belisol. The Belgian superteam has become used to being a major force at this time of year, where the races traverse the cobbled roads of its homeland, but a combination of some of its stars moving on, and others being unlucky with injuries, the results have not gone its way.

The optimism of German sprinter André Greipel’s storming start to the year - where he won three stages of the Tour Down Under, and two of the Tour of Oman - has evaporated, while Jürgen Roelandts - the team’s best Cobbled-Classics performer - is still recovering from the fractured vertebrae that he sustained in a Down Under crash.

Marcel Sieberg was the team’s best finisher in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the biggest race in northern Belgium, in 67th place, and the team’s lack of results has been further emphasised by the success enjoyed by its big Belgian rival Omega Pharma-Quick Step, whose principal sponsor was one of Lotto-Belisol’s last year.

The team’s blushes were spared a little in the middle of last week when 23-year-old Gaëten Bille won the GP Pino Cerami - with Jonas Vangenechten in third - but the result came right in the middle of Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tom Boonen’s second Flanders/Roubaix double and went virtually unnoticed.

“The last period was a very sour apple for us to bite,” the team’s manager Marc Sergeant told Sporza. “I’m very glad it’s behind us.

“The climbing Classics always suit a different set of riders,” he added. “We need to open a new barrel of riders.”

With Lotto-Belisol’s cobbles team now stepping down, the riders that are expected to perform in the hillier races will now take centre stage; although many of the same riders will ride Brabantse Pijl, which bridges the two phases of the spring. Where the young riders that were sent to races like Flanders and Roubaix lacked experience at such a level, the Ardennes riders have performed, and taken results, on some of the biggest stages of all.

“Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen Van Den Broeck have had time to prepare in peace,” Sergeant explained. “Now they have to show themselves. Now is an important period for them, but we must also be honest; they are not the big winners. We will aim at some good placings and want to ride attractively in the finales of the races.

“In the Brabantse Pijl we have a candidate for the win in [Gianni] Meersman.”

Meersman is the other one of the three Lotto-Belisol riders to have won races this year, having taken stages in the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice. The 26-year-old will be the team leader in Wednesday’s race, calling upon the team’s big Grand Tour climbers for assistance.

“It’s going well,” Jelle Vanendert - who won last year’s Tour de France stage to the Plateau de Beille - told Sporza. “I finished my programme in preparation for the Ardennes Classics.

“La Flèche Wallonne suits me the best,” he said, “because I love a steep finish. My results there in recent years have given me extra confidence. In the Brabantse Pijl I will be a domestique for Meersman, but I will ride the finale for myself.”

So far Vanendert’s results have been unspectacular, with him finishing well off the pace of the winners in the recent rainy Vuelta al Pais Vasco; with his big targets of the spring approaching he feels ready however, and has put his teammates lack of success out of his mind.

“Do we feel extra pressure because of the disappointing results of recent weeks?” he asked. “No, the team for these races is a different one entirely to that of the past few weeks.

“We have to let the other teams do the work so that we can save our forces,” Vanendert explained. “Without an absolute leader we need to ride collectively in the finale.”

Lotto-Belisol team for Brabantse Pijl/Flèche Brabaçonne
Jens Debusschere, Brian Bulgac, Gert Dockx, Kenny Dehaes, Gianni Meersman, Jurgen Vandewalle, Dennis Vanendert and Jelle Vanendert

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