“Our rivalry with Quick Step is good for Belgian cycling,” says OmegaPharma-Lotto boss Marc Sergeant
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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

“Our rivalry with Quick Step is good for Belgian cycling,” says OmegaPharma-Lotto boss Marc Sergeant

by Ben Atkins at 12:02 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Spring Classics, Fall Classics
 
Former underdogs have had the upper hand recently with riders like Philippe Gilbert and Jurgen Van Den Broeck

philippe gilbertOmegaPharma-Lotto’s general manager has greeted the news of the deal struck by Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere with a Czech billionaire and a Dutch businessman to secure his team’s future. The deal means that there will still be two Belgian teams at the top of the sport, maintaining the competition between the two and holding the public’s interest.

“It’s a good thing for us and for Belgian cycling,” Sergeant said in an interview with La Derniere Heure, “We need this duel with Quick Step. But it's true that we have always been considered the little brother, the underdog ... Also in the newspapers…”

While the Lotto sponsored team, which Sergeant has led since 2003, has historically been the poorer cousin to its more glamorous rival – dating back the the days of Lefevere’s tenure of the Italo-Belgian Mapei team – this is no longer the case. A less than superlative year for Quick Step, coupled with the coming of age of a number of OmegaPharma-Lotto riders, has seen Sergeant’s men seize the upper hand in the cycling mad country.

Further acquisitions in the transfer season should help this upward trend to continue.

“Today we have a dream team,” he said, “further strengthened with the arrival of André Greipel, but I think it is the fruit of our good strategy. In the Belgian context, we put the right pieces in the right places at the right time; especially with [Philippe] Gilbert and [Jurgen] Van den Broeck.”

One of the things that has worked for OmegaPharma-Lotto has been a move away from many of the stuffy traditions, which can dominate things in many of the established cycling countries. A close relationship with the team’s sponsors has helped things to work in new ways.

“With Geert Coeman, my administration and financial partner, we're two of the six steering committee members of the team, as well as two representatives of our sponsors,” he explained. “I'm often told that they are not cycling technicians, but I think they are just outsiders who bring new things. Just as the arrival in the peloton of the leaders of American teams, one bit of non-traditional thinking also leads to another.

“Here we were a little too inclined to say, ‘we know everything, we have raced...’”

Hello to some new faces; goodbye to some old hands

leif hosteAs well as the arrival of Greipel, one of the World’s most consistent sprinters, Sergeant has had to say goodbye to a number of riders. Notable departures are Leif Hoste, who departs for Team Katusha, and Greg Van Avermaet, who is to join BMC Racing; both riders have been with the team since 2007.

“I regret the departure of Leif Hoste,” he said, “but who could refuse the offer they made to him, and that of Greg Van Avermaet , who I have always appreciated as a real talent. He told me he needed to change. Since the announcement of his transfer he was also released. Among the arrivals, there are many young people because it is our duty to train as was the case with [Jürgen] Roelandts, Van Avermaet or [Francis] De Greef.”

Alongside a long list of new riders, Sergeant is also expecting the return of two of his riders, who have both been out with long term injuries. Jan Bakelants broke his kneecap in a crash in October’s Giro di Lombardia, while Jelle Vanendert missed much of the season after crashing on his knee in the Ruta del Sol in February.

“I hope they return to their best level,” said Sergeant of his injured riders. “Jan has started riding on the rollers, but the knee that he fractured is still an issue; we have set his return for the Giro [d'Italia]. Jelle, who has class, also has a number of things left to recover.”

Van Den Broeck can go even better at the Tour and Philippe Gilbert is one of the greats

The team’s biggest Belgian stars this year were undoubtedly Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Philippe Gilbert; the former securing Belgium’s best Tour de France position in 24 years, with fifth, and the latter confirming once more that he is the best rider in the World in hilly one-day races.

jurgen van den broeckWith the news that Van Den Broeck has extended with the team through 2013 all over Belgian media, Sergeant can build a team round the talented 27-year-old and aim even higher next time.

"We expect that VDB will confirm his excellent Tour de France,” Sergeant explained. “I know he struggles to talk about the top ten, but we are a little more ambitious because we have full confidence in him. He will have the same programme to build up for the Tour and an even stronger team around him. Then, as [Cadel] Evans did, he will continue to the Vuelta without pressure, to see where he is.”

"Philippe, I’ve know since he was a beginner," he said of Gilbert, who joined the team in 2009 after spending his entire career with Francaise des Jeux. “For years I wanted him to come home, but he wanted to wait for the right time. It’s true that when he arrived it took a little time to adapt, but since then he has made a lot of progress; he is now one of the greats. [Quick Step star Tom] Boonen was at the top at 23 years of age, Philippe had to wait a little later.

“Like Van den Broeck he has built slowly and gained confidence in himself.”

Having spent the last three years at the top level in some of the toughest races on the calender, Gilbert is still only 28-years-old, and Sergeant expects more years of the same from the Walloon rider. He insists that there is no pressure though, but the rider absorbs it so well anyway.

“He is at a very high level, and if he achieves the same next season that he has this year it will be great," he smiled. “But he can’t always win the Amstel or Lombardia, Sanremo, Flanders and Liege, and that's fine too. He has many dreams, but he is very strong psychologically, the pressure has no effect on him; he stays serene and that rubs off on his teammates. He is a great example to them, he is 100% pro.

“He doesn’t need to say many words to lead the team; his strength is to say, ‘I want to win it, and I must do that to get there,’ then he sticks to it.”

If Van Den Broeck and Gilbert can achieve anything like their 2010 results in 2011, and if Greipel can deliver as well with the Belgian team as he has with HTC-Columbia, the Quick Step team will have to have the season of its life to get ahead of its big rival.

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