It has been a punishing spring for the Dimension Data team with just two wins this season and sickness wrecking their chances in the spring Classics. Marquee signing Michael Valgren has been unable to showcase his talent but Dimension Data's head of performance Rolf Aldag believes that the Danish rider hasn't become a bad rider overnight and that the team's fortunes and results will improve.
"We know why it's been difficult. They were sick and then when everyone else is super good it's just really difficult to catch up again. That's what you have to live with," Aldag told Cyclingnews during the weekend of Paris-Roubaix.
Dimension Data signed the entire 2018 Amstel Gold Race podium over the winter with Valgren joined by Roman Kreuziger and the experienced Enrico Gasparotto. Their remaining Classics season will very much depend on those three riders performing at their very best.
"The Ardennes are coming. Roman Kreuziger wasn't sick from Algarve, Enrico Gasparotto was sick after Milan-San Remo but we have some fresh riders and we can do something with them."
While Kreuziger and Gasparotto have been able to train in recent weeks, and both performed well in Wednesday's De Brabantse Pijl - La Flèche Brabançonne, Valgren's form is harder to predict ahead of Amstel this weekend. He finished 102nd in the Tour of Flanders and skipped Paris-Roubaix. While many of his Ardennes rivals used Pais Vasco to improve their form the 27-year-old Dane struggled through the cobbles. Aldag added that one preparation wasn't necessarily better than the other and that Valgren already had the needed base miles in his legs.
"You have to factor in what the rider prefers and Michael, his dream is to one day win the Tour of Flanders. He has that in his mind and he wants to be part of every single race and make history. He loves the heritage of the sport and Pais Vasco wasn't exactly an easy race, even if you're training. To build up it's not the easiest race to use. Michael loves the Classics, he's had the block of training so it's not just the rhythm of one-day racing his legs.
"The talent hasn't just gone just because of one spring. That's why I'm not stressed because it will come. He prepared and he's kept going. It's not like he's 38 years old and his time is over. He's young and he's absolutely motivated."
Danish coffee club
Also at Paris-Roubaix was the former Tour of Flanders winner Rolf Sorensen. The Danish ex-pro has seen a raft of young talent break through from his country in recent years with Valgren, Mads Pedersen and Kasper Asgreen all standing out. Like Aldag, Sorensen stressed that Valgren could bounce back from his spring on the cobbles but he raised the issue over confidence, especially given the fact that Valgren had been signed by Dimension Data with the hope of him reinvigorating their roster.
"It's been disappointing. He's disappointed and he will have these questions in his head over what he's done and what he could have done differently. But he's such a skilled rider, with such a skilled engine that he has to come back to the top level. What he's shown this year has been poor and I can't give you an explanation. I don't think he can either," Sorensen told Cyclingnews.
"These are races when if you're second or fourth one year, and you come back and have a bad year you still need to fight to be 25th or 35th, maximum, just so you can be there for next year. When you lose a year you doubt if you can come back and do it again.
"I hope that he can turn it around. Something has to happen but he's not done the races you need before the Ardennes. The cobbles are a big adaption from the Ardennes but I think that Amstel is still a good race for him, and he wants to do Liege also. He's capable of Liege, especially when he's the Valgren that we know, and on that new finish. If you're not at your best then you're nowhere in these races."