Lotto-Belisol confident of retaining top riders despite Meersman departure
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Lotto-Belisol confident of retaining top riders despite Meersman departure

by VeloNation Press at 7:21 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Belgian said to be heading to Omega Pharma Quick Step

Gianni MeersmanDespite Gianni Meersman’s utilisation of a UCI clause to sever his contract with the Lotto – Belisol team and to head elsewhere, the Belgian squad has said that it believes that the team’s other riders will stay put.

The setup has lost several key riders in recent years and is currently near the bottom of the UCI’s hierarchy of teams, despite having the successful sprinter André Greipel and the fourth-place Tour de France finisher Jurgen Van den Broeck on board.

It was previously thought that Meersman’s departure wouldn’t affect the team’s ranking as it came so late in the season but, according to sporting manager Marc Sergeant, it will indeed push the team down slightly.

“Without Gianni we drop in points-ranking from seventeen to eighteen,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “It’s not a disaster, but of course we are losing a good rider. It's always the same story with a team with limited resources. I am thinking of Greg Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert and now Gianni.”

Meersman had an ongoing contract with the team extending into 2013. However because it was not listed in the top fifteen teams when the UCI hierarchy was announced on November 2nd, there is a chance that it could miss out on a WorldTour licence. Of the five teams between sixteenth and twentieth place, only three will get the top ranked licence.

Under UCI regulations, a rider on a team in this position of uncertainty can elect to leave and Meersman has exploited this clause. Sergeant could in theory face the loss of others, but he believes that this won’t happen.

“Our riders have indicated that they are happy, so I have no reason for concern,” he said. “But it is annoying that this happened because of an administrative error.”

Meersman spent four years with FDJ and joined Lotto-Belisol at the beginning of the current season. He quickly started clocking up results, taking stage victories in the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice, but was forced to spent time off the bike when he fractured his wrist in the Giro d’Italia.

He came back well in the second half of the season, netting second overall in the Tour de Wallonie, third in the Clásica San Sebastián and third, fourth and fifth on stages of the Vuelta a España. He then went to the world road race championships and played a key role in compatriot Philippe Gilbert’s victory.

There has been much speculation about where Meersman will head. According to Het Nieuwsblad, he appears set to move to Omega Pharma Quick Step. However the rider himself doesn’t want to confirm anything. “Currently I have only a verbal agreement and I don’t want to compromise the completion of my contract,” he said.

While he finalises his move, Lotto – Belisol will continue its push for a WorldTour licence. The next announcements on the matter are due from the UCI on November 26th, with the final decisions being revealed on December 10th.


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