Greipel once again anchors the Belgian squad
Lotto Belisol 2013
WorldTour Ranking: 18th/19
Win Count: 28
Top riders: André Greipel (37th), Jurgen Roelandts (51st), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (92nd)
Why mess with a good thing was the mindset heading into 2013 for Lotto Belisol. The Belgian squad's roster remained nearly identical to the previous year's which saw powerhouse German sprinter Andre Greipel win more races than any other in the professional peloton while Jurgen Van Den Broeck placed fourth overall in the Tour de France and had a solid showing in stage races in his build-up to the Grand Boucle.
Greipel again was the rider singly responsible for the most of Lotto Belisol's victories in 2013 (13 out of 28) and once again kicked off the squad's WorldTour campaign in fine fashion with three stage victories in Australia at the Tour Down Under. Except for March, Greipel proceeded to win races each month through to September (his final win was the one-day Brussels Cycling Classic in early September). Greipel again delivered a Tour de France stage victory for the squad (stage 6, the day after Van Den Broeck's season ended with a devastating crash), and won stages at Tour Méditerranéen (2), Tour of Turkey (2), Tour of Belgium (2), and the Eneco Tour (1) as well. In addition to his Brussels Cycling Classic victory, his other one-day win was the Ronde van Zeeland Seaports in early June.
Van Den Broeck seemed poised for another run at the general classification of the Tour de France (a race in which he'd already placed fourth on two occasions) as he notched solid results in stages races earlier in the season: fifth overall at Tour de San Luis, second overall at Ruta Del Sol, ninth at Volta a Catalunya and seventh at Tour de Romandie. Van Den Broeck's Tour, as well as his season, came to a devastating conclusion following a crash in the finale of stage 5 in which he sustained a serious knee injury.
While Greipel was the team's most prolific winner, seven of his teammates also earned victories for the squad in 2013. Kenny Dehaes proved his sprinting ability with three one day wins (Trofeo Palma de Mallorca, Handzame Classic and Halle-Ingooigem) plus a stage victory at the Tour de Wallonie. Jens Debusschere also notched four victories, all at the end of the season in late September and October (two one-day wins plus a stage and the overall at the Tour de l'Eurometropole).
Fan favourite and Grand Tour ironman Adam Hansen (who once again started and finished all three Grand Tours in 2013) salvaged Lotto-Belisol's Giro d'Italia with a victory on stage 7 into Pescara while their man for the Spring Classics, Jürgen Roelandts, won a stage at Tour Méditerranéen prior to beginning his cobbled campaign. Roelandts would place third at the Tour of Flanders and also finished eighth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The Belgian would just miss the podium later in the season at the one-day WorldTour event GP Ouest France-Plouay (fourth) and showed his ability in shorter stage races with seventh overall at Tour Méditerranéen, 8th at the Tour of Belgium and ninth at the Ster ZLM Toer.
There were segments of the season where results were largely absent, such as the Ardennes Classics. Van Den Broeck opted to skip them in 2013 in his build-up to the Tour while Jelle Vanendert under-performed in relation to his stellar 2012 campaign. The previous year Vanendert placed second at Amstel Gold, fourth at Fleche-Wallonne followed by 10th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In 2013, however, his best result was 13th at Amstel Gold.
Hansen saved the squad's Giro campaign with his stage win, otherwise there stint in Italy was rather anonymous. The team didn't have a GC option and outside of Hansen's victory the team cracked the top-10 in a stage finish on only one other occasion. The team was poised to pursue a two-pronged campaign at the Tour but while Greipel earned a stage win, Van Den Broeck's misfortune torpedoed their GC hopes. The Vuelta was a true barren spot for the squad as only four riders finished and Hansen provided their best stage finish, third place on stage 18.
Team manager Marc Sergeant, however, was certainly mindful of this and has brought in both up-and-coming and proven talent to the roster for 2014.
What to expect in 2014
With the house-cleaning that's taken place on the team's roster for 2014, it's all about strengthening the team in the quest for WorldTour points. While the team's win count in 2013 was one better than the previous season (28 vs. 27), only six were at the WorldTour level with Greipel accounting for five and Adam Hansen the sixth. The team finished a lowly 18th out of 19 regarding their WorldTour points tally (307), with only the defunct Vacansoleil-DCM squad earning fewer, and the team had only three riders in the top 100 overall.
Greipel will certainly get his victories in 2014 and his lead-out train has been strengthened, but the German will turn 32 in 2014 and may be facing a harder road to keep up with recent season's win counts. Greipel won 13 times in 2013, but also placed second on 11 occasions. While any number of factors can contribute to the difference between first and second, younger riders such as Nacer Bouhanni (23), John Degenkolb (24) and Marcel Kittel (25) may just have that extra zip in their kick. Kittel put Greipel into second place on four occasions, two of those Tour de France stages.
The team sorely missed Jurgen Van Den Broeck at the Tour de France and the Belgian, who's twice placed fourth overall on general classification, has once again targeted the Tour as his primary season objective. He's fully recovered from the serious injuries sustained in the crash which knocked him out of the Tour after the fifth stage (and ended his season) and another top performance in France, as well as strong placings throughout the early part of the season as he builds to the Grand Boucle, are well within his grasp. Van Den Broeck will also return to the Ardennes Classics to provide depth to their roster on that front
Roelandts is certainly capable of once again garnering top finishes in Spring Classics and after a lackluster 2013 campaign the team showed their faith in Jelle Vanendert for another year, albeit it at lower pay, in his ability to contest the Ardennes Classics as well as support their GC efforts in the Grand Tours.
Two new signings from RadioShack, Maxime Monfort and Tony Gallopin, will certainly be welcomed to Lotto Belisol. In Monfort, who other than Van Den Broeck is the only member of Lotto Belisol for 2014 that's finished top-10 at a Grand Tour (6th at 2011 Vuelta), they have a rider with solid stage racing palmares who can ensure the team has a GC hopeful at each of the season's Grand Tours as well as other stage races. Gallopin, winner at San Sebastian in 2013, will provide Lotto-Belisol with a strong 1-2 option, along with Roelandts, in the Classics.
While Tony Gallopin bolsters the team's stature in the Classics, his 2013 RadioShack teammate Maxime Monfort fills a role arguably more desperately needed regarding eying overall results in stage races. Marc Sergeant ruled out bringing former team member and now Grand Tour winner Chris Horner back into the fold, but instead pinned his hopes on Monfort to bring welcome depth to their Grand Tour GC ambitions. The 30-year-old Belgian is cut in the mold of Van Den Broeck as he's hardly a prolific winner, but he can deliver solid GC results in Grand Tours and other stage races throughout the season. In addition to his top-10 result at the Vuelta, he's duplicated that feat at Criterium International, Pais Vasco, Criterium du Dauphine, Eneco Tour, Tour de Suisse, Tour de Luxembourg, and Paris-Nice throughout his career.
Unlike the past winter when the team let only two riders go while signing one, this go round there were wholesale changes for the squad with nine riders signed versus 10 being let go. The strength of Lotto Belisol's signings far outweigh the riders they've released. Of the riders they've lost, three retired, five have gone to Pro Continental or Continental squads while the remaining two have yet to find a job. Belgium's Fréderique Robert 24, is a young sprinter who earned two victories on the season, his first two wins as a professional, and he's the only rider released who won a race for Lotto Belisol this season. Robert will be racing for Belgian Pro Continental squad Wanty-Groupe Gobert in 2014.
Who to watch
Promising 22-year-old talent Sean De Bie will make his WorldTour debut in 2014 and it will be interesting to see how the young Belgian will perform. He comes from a family of cyclo-cross stars and while Sean himself has won a junior 'cross title in Belgium his ambitions have turned to the road. He's the reigning European U23 road champion and has finished second and fourth at the U23 Tour of Flanders.