Stellar season for Greipel, solid Tour for Van Den Broeck
Powerhouse German sprinter André Greipel grabbed the bulk of the headlines for Lotto Belisol in 2012 as he finished the season with 19 of the team's 27 victories, a win tally greater than any rider in the professional peloton last year. Greipel has been one of the sport's most consistently successful sprinters and in 2012 he again started winning early on at the Tour Down Under in January, notching three stage victories in the opening WorldTour event, and kept on winning through September when he claimed his 19th victory in Belgium's GP Impanis-Van Petegem.
In between he won races in every month of the year except March, with his biggest victories reserved for July. Greipel flexed his muscles three times at the Tour de France, winning back to back stages in Rouen and Saint-Quentin followed nine days later with a third victory in Le Cap d’Agde. It was by far Greipel's best Tour thanks to his Lotto Belisol teammates making up his lead-out train, particularly the addition of Greg Henderson to the team in 2012 who proved invaluable as Greipel's pilot fish in hectic finales.
The team's remaining eight victories were spread amongst four riders: Gianni Meersman, Lars Bak, Gaëtan Bille and Jürgen Roelandts. Meersman provide two wins early in 2012, Bak delivered a huge stage victory at the Giro d'Italia (his first Grand Tour stage win) plus a win in September at the French one-day race GP de Fourmies, Bille sprinted to victory in the Belgian one-day race GP Pino Cerami while Roelandts won a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg in June followed by a stage win and overall title at the Eurométropole Tour - Circuit Franco-Belge in late September. Desite earning three victories 2012 was truly disappointing for Roelands, having suffered a serious crash at the Tour Down Under in January which kept him out of competition for four months capped off with a crash in October which resulted in a triple collarbone fracture.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck had a very solid Tour de France where he finished fourth overall behind Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Vincenzo Nibali. The 29-year-old Belgian has finished in the top-10 at all three Grand Tours during his career and believes a podium finish is within his grasp.
While the team can look to the Tour de France as its best performance of the season, there were other parts of the year where the team failed to make its mark, particularly the spring's cobbled Classics (where they sorely missed Roelandts who was still recovering from a crash at the Tour Down Under) plus many of the points-rich WorldTour events. Jelle Vanendert was a bright spot for the squad in the Ardennes Classics triumvirate of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Bak salvaged the squad's Giro d'Italia with a stage victory, while despite Meersman's best efforts the team finished the Vuelta with no stage wins and no GC presence as Van Den Broeck abandoned after 13 stages. Bart De Clercq, however, did finish in 17th place overall, the 26-year-old Belgian's best Grand Tour result in his three-year pro career.
Perhaps winning the iron man of the year award, domestique extraordinaire Adam Hansen started and completed all three Grand Tours of 2012, the only rider to complete the trifecta last season and join the select fraternity.
Van Den Broeck would be the best placed Lotto Belisol rider on the individual WorldTour rankings at season's end in 14th while Greipel claimed 29th.
The team was not one of the top-15 WorldTour squads in terms of sporting performance at season's end and thusly did not get the initial automatic bid for WorldTour status in 2013, leading Meersman to jump ship to rival Belgian squad Omega Pharma-Quickstep to ensure he'd remain at the WorldTour level. While manager Marc Sergeant was confident Lotto Belisol would continue in the WorldTour, it's disconcerting nonetheless to have the assurance delayed further into the off-season.
In order to bolster the team's points standings heading into the previous 2012 season they had signed Iran's Mehdi Sohrabi, a two-time winner of the UCI Asia Tour, but he failed to score a single WorldTour point during his transition year into the European peloton and was released at the end of the season.
What to expect in 2013: With a lead-out train firing on all cylinders, Lotto Belisol will again rely heavily on André Greipel to be a frequent presence atop podiums all season long. With the Tour Down Under soon kicking off the WorldTour we'll see if Greipel can set the tone for the season while becoming the winningest rider at the Australian stage race. With such a heavy reliance on Greipel, the team can only hope he remains healthy and fit for the 2013 campaign. Tour de France stage wins remain a primary target, and while Greipel finished runner-up to Peter Sagan in last year's green jersey competition the German chooses to remain focused on winning stages rather than chase the jersey.
Van Den Broeck has circled the Tour de France general classification as his season's goal, while Jelle Vanendert looks forward to achieving another strong Ardennes Classics campaign, particularly Liège-Bastogne-Liège. With a solid climbing pedigree and a Grand Tour stage win to his name, Vanendert may also leave his mark at one of the marquee Tours in 2013, contingent upon still providing key support in the mountains for Van Den Broeck. A healthy Bak and Roelandts should auger well for the cobbled Classics while the team looks to its young riders, such as 22-year-old Belgian Tosh Van der Sande, for results too.
Team manager Marc Sergeant is indeed mindful of his team's points woes compared to other WorldTour squads and he's hoping for a solid season of results from his tight-knit team to ensure a less-stressful off-season at the end of the year. He's made some adjustments to race programmes, such as having Van Den Broeck skip the Ardennes Classics in favour of the Tour of Romandie, in order to secure additional WorldTour points and ensure a top-15 placing by season's end.
The team's already notched its first victory of the season with Frederique Robert winning the opening stage of the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon.
Best signing: Lotto Belisol proved remarkably stable roster-wise from 2012 to 2013, losing just two riders (Meersman and Sohrabi) while signing only one: Dirk Bellemakers. The 28-year-old Dutchman makes his WorldTour debut with Lotto Belisol after spending five seasons with the Belgian Pro Continental squad Landbouwkrediet. Bellemakers, a training partner of Jelle Vanendert, will feature most prominently in a domestique role during the Ardennes Classics and is also no stranger to heading out on the attack early in breakaways.
Biggest loss: Gianni Meersman. The 27-year-old Belgian delivered two victories to Lotto Belisol in 2012, the opening stage of at Volta ao Algarve in February followed by a stage win at Paris-Nice in March. Later in the season Meersman finished second overall at the Tour de Wallonie and then finished third at Clasica San Sebastian. While Meersman has yet to win a Grand Tour stage in his career, he cracked the top-10 on seven occasions in stages at the Vuelta a Espana this year. Meersman is the type of rider who can win sprints on hilly days when the pure fast men are dropped and will be missed by Lotto Belisol in 2013, who didn't bring on a rider of similar talent to temper his loss.
Who to watch: While André Greipel will undoubtedly be the rider racking up win after win for the Belgian squad, keep an eye on Jelle Vanendert in the Ardennes Classics. In 2012 he proved remarkably consistent finishing 2nd at Amstel Gold, 4th at Flèche Wallonne and 10th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. While hardly a prolific winner, perhaps 2013 will see a breakthrough victory in April this year.
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