RadioShack's Gert Steegmans is set to assume responsibility for the team's sprint performance next season after manager Johan Bruyneel backed him to add at least ten victories to his palmares next year.
"Mark my words, Steegmans will win at least 10 races next season," Bruyneel told Belgian magazine Knack. "For RadioShack, the transfer of Steegmans is an opportunity."
Steegmans confirmed his transfer from Katusha in September after a disjointed season with the Russian squad. His 2009 season began well, with victories at the Trofeo Mallorca and Vuelta a Andalucia in February. However, his relationship with Katusha became strained in June when he disagreed with elements of the team's new anti-doping charter. Steegmans refused to sign the document and was subsequently placed on non-active status before his contact was dissolved in August.
Despite the acrimony of Steegmans' split with his former team, Bruyneel is confident that he will return to top form at RadioShack. "Steegmans is a talent. If he sits in an environment where he can best train and is well cared for, how can it go wrong?" said Bruyneel. "Steegmans can win, but he can do so without standing in the way of the team's other ambitions; that is just what we were looking for."
The RadioShack manager's praise of his 29-year-old compatriot went so far as to also predict that he could defeat the peloton's premiere sprinter, Columbia-HTC's Mark Cavendish.
"Steegmans is no Mark Cavendish, who you must build the whole team around. But he is someone who one day can beat Cavendish."
Although Bruyneel's comments indicate that Steegmans will act as a free agent in his hunt for victories next season, he is likely to receive assistance from fellow Belgian riders Sébastien Rosseler and Ben Hermans who will join him at Lance Armstrong's US-based squad.
Steegmans will get the opportunity to repay his manager's faith in him early next year. He, Rosseler and Armstrong were yesterday named by Bruyneel in the RadioShack roster for the Tour Down Under, January 19-24.
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