Tour de France: Van den Broeck becomes first Belgian in 24 years to crack the Tour's Top 5
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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tour de France: Van den Broeck becomes first Belgian in 24 years to crack the Tour's Top 5

by Jered Gruber at 9:17 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
27-year-old Van den Broeck first since Criquielion in 1986 to finish in the top five

With 27-year-old Jurgen Van den Broeck's 5th place overall finish in Paris, 6 minutes and 54 seconds behind three-time winner Alberto Contador, he became the first Belgian to crack the top five at the Tour de France since the great Walloon, Claude Criquielion, in 1986. Criquielion finished that Tour more than twenty-four minutes behind first time American winner, Greg LeMond. The last Belgian to crack the top 10 of the Tour de France was in 1998: Axel Merckx finished in 10th place in Paris far behind Marco Pantani.

"This gives us a unique feeling," says Omega Pharma boss, Marc Coucke. The proud Coucke spoke with Sporza following the first Belgian top five in twenty-four years and said, "We have worked for seven years to achieve this. Evans was on our team, but Cadel was not Belgian, of course. This is different."

Without overstating, Coucke proclaims what everyone knows already - that Van den Broeck is the real deal: "Jurgen has proven that he's the future. His achievement is an example for the youth. Belgium is proud of us."

Van den Broeck, following a Tour de France sometimes marked by terse and cursory comments, finally let loose in Paris, and rightly so.

"I flew over the cobbles a little today. The last eight laps were a dream and I enjoyed them. Every lap I thought, 'This cannot be true.' As a child, I watched the Tour and thought, 'Wow, the top five is only for the great riders.' And now I'm here myself. It is difficult to comprehend, let alone express. For now, I'm just going to enjoy it."

The rider from Herentals was the best placed Belgian at the 2009 Tour de France as well. He ended up in 15th place behind Alberto Contador one year ago. Following that encouraging performance, he set his eyes solely on the Tour de France this season - the gamble and extreme focus paid off.

Van den Broeck complained at times during this Tour de France of the lack of respect from older riders for his improving position in the group. He struggled with the likes of Leipheimer and Evans in the Alps, all riders he distanced greatly in the final overall classification, for a place to the fore in the elite climbing group. As the race headed into the Pyrenees though, his place was established, and it was often Van den Broeck taking up the reins of the pace-setting in the select groups he was always a part of. After three weeks of hard fighting to prove that his fifth overall position was no fluke, he was finally able to not only bask in the applause from the fans and media, but also the riders he waged war with since Rotterdam.

"Especially today in the pack a lot of riders came up to me. Many riders came to congratulate me, even some of the big names - including Lance Armstrong."

While the team is over the moon at the success of their young Belgian standout, the Omega Pharma squad isn't looking to rest on its laurels either. The team, which has long been lacking a strong sprinter, looks to be on the cusp of picking up not only HTC-Columbia's #2 sprinter, Andre Greipel, but also some strong riders to come with him.

"We are here for the future. We are almost to an agreement with Andre Greipel. On the sporting and financial terms, the negotiations are completed. We might be able to sign the contract in the next couple of weeks," beams Marc Coucke. "He wants to bring a few strong riders with him. This could also prove to be a positive for Van den Broeck and Philippe Gilbert."

The addition of Greipel and his small cadre of support could indeed bring up the level of the team from the outset, but it could also serve to better the Belgian talent on the team, namely young sprinter, Jurgen Roelandts, who finished a fine 4th place today on the Champs Elysees: "That does not bother me. He can teach me a lot. Maybe after two or three years, I'll be ready to win myself, and after that, Greipel could move on."

The future looks bright on all fronts for the team that has long played second fiddle to the QuickStep superteam.

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