New sponsor and best Grand Tour result in years for Dutch team
Team Belkin 2013
WorldTour Ranking: 11th of 19
Win Count: 38
Top riders: Bauke Mollema (17th), Robert Gesink (35th), Wilco Kelderman (38th), Tom Jelte Slagter (39th), Sep Vanmarcke (63rd)
It was a turbulent year for Team Belkin. With Rabobank leaving the sport [for elite men's racing] after 16 years of sponsorship, team management was left with no sponsor and no name to put on the jerseys before the start of the season. In January, the team was branded Blanco and remained funded by Rabobank who didn’t forsake their financial obligations. It rode under the Blanco banner until American electronics company Belkin stepped in to sponsor the Dutch team just before the Tour de France.
With 38 wins, Belkin had a very successful season though over 25 percent of these victories were obtained in the Tour of Hainan, where Theo Bos and Moreno Hofland had a clean sweep by winning all nine stages and the overall classification. Belkin finished the season as number 11 on the UCI WorldTour ranking.
There were victories for 15 out of the 29 riders with some for hard working domestiques like Maarten Tjallingii in the World Ports Classic, Jos van Emden in the Münsterland Giro and Tom Leezer in the Tour of Langkawi.
Paul Martens won his first short stage race in the Tour of Luxembourg while Tom Jelte Slagter, Lars Boom, Wilco Kelderman and Moreno Hofland all won overall classifications in the Tour Down Under, Ster ZLM Tour, the Tour of Denmark and the Tour of Hainan respectively.
Slagter’s win Down Under was the first under the new Blanco banner and one of five WorldTour victories this season. Mark Renshaw took a solid victory in the Eneco Tour while Robert Gesink showed again that he is very strong on Canadian soil. After his 2010 victory in Montréal, the Dutchman added the GP Québec to his palmares.
Bauke Mollema signed up for the other two World Tour victories for the team with stage wins in the Tour de Suisse and the Vuelta a España. But it was not a winning performance that was arguably the highlight of Belkin’s year. The sixth place in the GC of the Tour de France by Mollema and the 13th place of Laurens ten Dam were the culmination of a long period for a team that has developing Grand Tour contenders in its DNA.
What to expect in 2014
While the contracts of the majority of the riders were renewed in 2012, just before Rabobank left the sport as title sponsor, the Dutch bank honoured its obligations to pay for the riders' contracts in 2013 and 2014. Only five riders have a contract beyond 2014, which means that 24 of them will be at the end of their contract next year. The hunt for an additional sponsor and therefore automatically for a bigger budget will define whether Belkin can keep big names like Bauke Mollema, Lars Boom, Robert Gesink, Sep Vanmarcke and talents like Wilco Kelderman on board.
With Bauke Mollema finishing sixth in the Tour de France and Robert Gesink aiming to become joint team captain in the biggest race of the year again, the Tour will be an important race for Belkin. Laurens ten Dam will get the role of super domestique in the Tour and will aim for a strong individual result in the Vuelta. Young hopeful Wilco Kelderman will get a chance to further develop as a Grand Tour contender in the Giro next year.
It will be a key year for Theo Bos. The 30-year-old former track sprint world champion still has to fulfill his own ambition to win a stage in a Grand Tour. This year he beat the likes of Mark Cavendish, André Greipel and Marcel Kittel in the Ster ZLM Tour but Bos has yet to shine on the highest stage of stage racing.
Sep Vanmarcke came closest to a victory in a Classic this year while Jetse Bol only fell 300 meters short of winning Paris-Tours. With regards to good results in the Spring Classics, the team will rely on Vanmarcke and on Lars Boom, who has finished in the top 10 of races like Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem. They will be joined by strong riders like Rick Flens, Maarten Tjallingii and Maarten Wynants.
Team Belkin only signed three riders for 2014: neo-pro Nick van der Lijke from the Rabobank Development Team, Frenchman Jonathan Hivert from Sojasun and Barry Markus. Markus was the first rider of Vacansoleil-DCM to find a new team and rightly so. The 22-year-old from Amsterdam is an exciting sprinter to watch. He sees the opportunities, is not afraid and positions himself well without a lead-out train. Markus was beaten three times by Mark Cavendish in the Tour of Qatar and also reached the podium in the Scheldeprijs. His first pro victory is not far away.
Belkin said goodbye to three riders: Tom Jelte Slatgter, Mark Renshaw and Luis Léon Sanchez. Though on paper the departure of Luis Léon Sanchez may seem like the biggest loss, the team is happy to see him go. With several doping-associated stories under his name, Belkin bought the Spaniard out of his contract.
The biggest loss for the team is undoubtedly Tom Jelte Slagter, who signed a two-year deal with Garmin-Sharp. The winner of the Tour Down Under refused to be blackmailed into signing a new contract with Belkin in return for a spot on the Tour de France team and chose Garmin-Sharp as his new home. The 24-year-old holds great potential to further develop into a puncheur style rider and gets two years with Jonathan Vaughters’ to further develop these skills.
Who to watch
Wilco Kelderman remains the biggest diamond within Team Belkin. The 22-year-old Dutchman has a very strong time trial in the legs and finished 17th in this year's Giro d'Italia, even though he was there to help Robert Gesink. He impressed in his first year with a fourth place in the long time trial in the Dauphiné. This year, he took his first professional victory by winning the individual time trial and the overall in the Tour of Denmark. Belkin takes good care of its young riders by not putting too much pressure on their shoulders. The limelight in the Grand Tour is for riders like Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam at the moment while young Kelderman prepares himself for a chance of his own in next year's Giro d'Italia.