News feature, June 15, 2005
After their successful 'experiment' at the first Grand Tour of the year, the Giro d'Italia, Davitamon-Lotto directeur-sportif Hendrik Redant has said the team will follow through with a similarly balanced line-up of riders at the 2005 Tour de France.
Speaking with Cyclingnews at the Stage 4 start of the Tour de Suisse in Vaduz, Redant, team manager at the race, was quietly confident about the team's two-pronged race strategy come July. After all, it worked in Italy, where super-sprinter Robbie McEwen won three stages in the first two weeks, and 26 year-old Belgian revelation Wim Van Huffel rode into Milano as the 11th best rider in the race.
"Yeah, for sure, Robbie winning three stages is perfect, of course", said Redant, "and it was a mixed team."
"Normally, if we go to Italy, we make a team especially for Robbie, but this time, we had a mix with some general classification riders in Wim Van Huffel, [Mauricio] Ardila and [Christophe] Brandt. In the beginning, they even worked really hard to get Robbie in front, so it was nice to see that - and we also won the Super Team classification, as well as Wim Van Huffel being one of the revelations of the season. I think we can look back on a really special Tour of Italy for us."
Watch the name: Van Huffel
Speaking about this new name Wim Van Huffel, who in fact rode as a stagiaire for Lotto back in 2001 before riding for Vlaanderen - T Interim the next three years, Redant said that although they knew he was a good rider for a race like the Giro, he didn't know he was that good.
"We knew he could climb; he came from a very small team, where we saw him have some victories in some little races, but on really hard courses," began Redant. "So in a meeting with him at the beginning of the season, we said: 'Okay, let's go for the Tour of Italy, we'll [target] a few stages and see how it goes.'
"But he got better every day, so it was a really good surprise to see him do that - and then to confirm by doing an awesome Dauphiné Libéré, for sure, that was a really pleasant surprise. But I don't see it as a real surprise, because we knew he was capable of doing things that some people didn't expect."
Even so, such a rider coming from Belgium isn't normal?
"He just has ability," said Redant. "Every day, he trains with Peter Van Petegem, but he also does make an investment by going to the Ardennes and training in the hills. He's only 26, so he can still perform and get better - much better. Like you said, they're not really hills, but if you can do it, you go for it."
The Robbie and Cadel show
With a team headed up by super-sprinter Robbie McEwen, who won today's stage of the Tour de Suisse by a country mile, and Cadel Evans, recovering from yet another broken collarbone but looking on track for a good dig at the overall classification, it seems Redant has good reason to be unconcerned about La Grand Boucle.
"I'm feeling really confident; we still have to confirm a few riders - we have about six at the moment, you know the names, you've been reading them... " said Redant to Cyclingnews with a wry smile. "Obviously, there's going to be some adjustments after this Tour of Switzerland, the [recent] Dauphiné Libéré and also the Ster Elektrotoer, which is on at the moment.
"But I think we have quite a good balance. We have a team set up around Cadel [Evans]; for sure, he's going to be our leading man for the [overall] classification, but also for Robbie, we're going to go for at least a few stage wins and also again for green. So I think the balance is quite good; we're going to do it again like we did in the Tour of Italy, and I hope we are as successful as we were there."
For for first time in a while, Davitamon-Lotto will come to the Tour de France with a rider that can seriously challenge for the general classification, and there's obvious excitement in Redant's voice when one brings up the topic of very possible top 10 finish in Paris.
Asked how this 28 year-old Victorian, originally from Australia's 'Red Centre' in Alice Springs, is faring this week after his training accident exactly one month ago, the experienced directeur sportif is pleased but at the same time very cautious not to place too much pressure on his star rider. Said Redant: "One of Cadel Evans' objectives is to get his form back after his crash where he broke his collarbone. It's his first race [back]; he's had a lot of training, but competition is the best training of all.
"This week, it's been a case of so far, so good for Cadel. Finishing 23rd in Sunday's time trial in Weinfelden, two minutes behind Ullrich, and currently 13th overall, Evans is clearly not yet 100 percent, but in light of the circumstances, it's expected.
"I think he's going to be all right - he's got about three weeks to go," said Redant with optimism. "His condition is not top, but that's normal, he's restarting; I don't think it will interfere with his program to do the Tour de France.
"His mind is already set up [on the Tour de France] from the beginning of the season, so he's really focused on that. I think in this Tour of Switzerland, where he did more than an average time trial - maybe he was disappointed, but it was good - after such a long time [off], it's difficult to do that. And there's still a few stages to go, where he can test himself in the mountains; I think he will be really good, and he'll be fine for the Tour de France - I'm sure about that."