Dutch squad celebrates Kittel's third stage win in 2013 Tour
In 2009, when Argos-Shimano - then Skil-Shimano - made their Tour de France debut, the Dutch team were seen as a team of plucky underdogs. They were the Tour's whipping boys from the Pro Continental division, lacking a genuine leader and simply out to gain experience.
Their Tour that year was epitomised by sprinter Kenny van Hummel, a rider who was dubbed as the Tour's worst ever climber by ASO's Jean-Francois Pecheux.
In the years since, team boss Iwan Spekenbrink and his staff have slowly built the team into a force to be reckoned with, culminating in Marcel Kittel's third stage win of the race in Tours. There have been a number of stepping stones along the way: John Degenkolb's Vuelta a Espana in 2012 and Kittel's Scheldeprijs but Spekenbrink's men now shine on the greatest stage of all.
"This is unbelievable. For the team, it's a dream, and we're living in the clouds," Spekenbrink told Cyclingnews at the finish in Tours.
Spekenbrink certainly doesn't have one of the biggest budgets in the WorldTour. A lot of his riders are signed as promising neo-pros or haven't quite made the grade at other teams but what Spekenbrink has created is an environment where his riders can blossom under a clear and defined path that Spekenbrink says is founded on a strict anit-doping policy.
"We had so much prepared for this," he said in assessing the team's sprint train in Tours.
"We put so much new science and out of the box thinking into this with a lot of analysis of where and how we could improve. We looked at coaching too and then we went about building a sprint train. We knew that with the talent of the guys, that when we're all 100 per cent and do the job right, that we would be close to the win. This is the top of the very top in the world's toughest race so we know that everyone is at 100 per cent."
Spekenbrink's team still have plenty of pluck but they're certainly no underdogs, sitting alongside the likes of Omega, Lotto and Cannondale, and rather romantically the team and Spekenbrink have kept the core values of the team intact. Three of the riders that started the 2009 Tour have helped Kittel in this year's race.
"At this moment we're among the best, for sure," Spekenbrink told Cyclingnews when asked to assess where his team currently stand.
"It's up to the others to decide on who the best is [leadout in the world]. This feels good though. We never stopped thinking about how we could improve and move forward whether it's training, nutrition or something technical."
Not that everything is a proven science though. Kittel was signed by the team as a promising time trialist, a rider who could ride well against the clock and bury himself on a solo mission. A far cry from the sprinter who now has won three Tour stage wins.
"We signed him as a time trialist. We did the first test with him and we looked at the power output. We though the SRM wasn't working so we tried another one and he broke our records," Spekenbrink added.
"Then we had to adjust his training but the most important thing for Marcel was that he had to learn how to ride in the sprints. He was successful at this in his first race, and we've kept doing it."
Kittel and his team will keep on "doing it" all the way to Paris, and it's time for the others to play catch up.
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