News Feature, February 12, 2008
Last year Predictor Lotto enjoyed one of their best ever seasons. Cadel Evans was second overall in the Tour de France and the team picked up two stage wins along the way courtesy of Robbie McEwen (stage one) and Evans (individual time trial). Evans placed fourth in the Vuelta and sixth in Lombardy before going onto win the overall ProTour title, while Leif Hoste finished second for the third time in Belgium's biggest one day event, the Tour of Flanders. The team was presented in Hasselt during the Lotto six day track race.
This year the team has changed names - with Predictor's sister company, Silence taking over naming rights - to become Silence-Lotto. The focus of the team has changed somewhat as well. For the first time ever, Cadel Evans will have the entire team dedicated to him during the Tour de France, while McEwen will have to look after himself more in the sprints and the fight for the green jersey.
That's not to say the team is forgetting its roots in the Spring classics. Hoste will once again focus his energies on the early season, with the hope of losing his eternal second label in Flanders.
"I will happily put my hand up to be the water boy. I am not too big for that." - Robbie McEwen shows his dedication to the teams goal of winning the Tour.
"Every year we say that we are capable of winning a really big race. But until now it we have been unable to deliver." explained Marc Coucke, CEO of the main sponsor, Omega Pharma to Belgian news website HLN.be. "This year we are going for it, in the classics and the tour. And I promise you that if we win, the Tour of Flanders, Paris Roubaix, or the Tour de France, we will throw one of the biggest cycling parties Flanders has ever seen."
Silence-Lotto has a budget of around 7.5 million Euros, will use the experience gained over the past seasons to attack the classics and the Tours. One of the biggest signings over the winter is Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych, who has replaced American Chris Horner as Evans' support at the Tour.
"It is a big victory for us, the signing of Popovych," said sports director, Marc Seargeant. "That he has come to us shows that he trusts us and that we have done our work well. Last year we missed someone who was able to stay with Evans in the high mountains. It is reasonable to think that Evans could have won the tour last year with Popovych on the team. With these two riders we can ride more tactically, the last few years it was Evans or nothing."
Evans' results over the last year have been enough for the squad to dedicate more riders to an overall win in the Tour. Part of that success has come from an increase in confidence in both himself and his team.
"In the Tour of Spain last year, we built the team around Cadel. All the guys were there to help Cadel, no attacks, no break away, just there to help Cadel," Hendrick Redant told Cyclingnews at the Tour Down Under earlier this year. The dedication proved to the Australian that the team is serious about their goal of helping him to a Tour de France win.
On the flipside, Evans' Vuelta fourth place also showed his team-mates that their hard word was not in vain. That's important when you ask someone to ride themselves into the ground day after day for three weeks.
To win a Tour de France, sacrifices need to be made, not only by the individual, but also the team. Silence-Lotto understands this, and so does Robbie McEwen. "I will have to find my own way [in the sprints], but I don't have a problem with that at all. I am used to that by now," McEwen said.
After years of not having a dedicated lead-out squad, a la Petacchi's Milram train, McEwen has become accustomed to finding a wheel to the line for himself, before popping out at the last possible moment, often surprising many of his rivals to take the win. His confidence, coupled with his results over the years is appreciated by the squad's directors who have total confidence in the diminutive Aussie. "I know Robbie can take care of himself," Redant said.
McEwen is also eager to help his compatriot achieve what would be a first for Australia. "In the mountains I don't have a problem at all working for Cadel," McEwen said, showing his team spirit. "I will happily put my hand up to be the water boy. I am not too big for that.
"My contract finishes at the end of season, which means that I have to go to the negotiating table. I would like to stay in the peloton for another season or two," McEwen added.
The green jersey and stage win at the Tour are not McEwen's only goals this year. "In Milan Sanremo I want to look after myself as well. That race suits me. Last year I got sick in the lead up to La Primavera, crashed and still finished fourth. I want to finish first there," he said.
For a team that is registered in Belgium, it might seem odd that the team relies so heavily on two Australians for success, but with 21 Belgians on the roster, among them, Leif Hoste, their Belgian fans need not worry. Last year Hoste was once again second in Flanders, a result he is keen to better this year.
"I want to go one step higher this year in Meerbeke. Not stand to the right of the winner again, like I have done three times already. Flanders and Paris Roubaix are once again my targets this season. It is easier said than done, to win Flanders. Last year I should have maybe waited 50 meters more before starting my sprint," Hoste said of his 2008 plans.
Supporting Hoste this year will be riders such as Greg Van Avermaet, who in his debut professional season won five races. With the addition of Gorik Gardeyn and the Dutchman Maarten Tjallingii, the classics team should be one to watch.
For the 2008 season Silence-Lotto has 29 riders on it roster, including two neo pros, Francis De Greef and Jürgen Roelandts. Popovych, Gardeyn, Tjallingii, Ukrainian Volodymyr Bileka and Belgians Glenn D'Hollander and Pieter Jacobs join the squad for the first time, while the Americans Chris Horner and Fred Rodriguez along with Spaniard Josep Jufre have left the team. Björn Leukemans was released from the team after testing positive last season for testosterone.
For the full roster, see the Cyclingnews teams database.