After a testing 2009, Silence-Lotto directeur sportif Roberto Damiani has indicated that despite the challenges throughout the year, a number of positives came out of this past season and the Belgian squad should be optimistic heading into 2010.
Whilst the team was criticised for its poor showing in the first half of the year, Damiani cited the unearthing of Jurgen Van Den Broeck as a Tour contender, Cadel Evans’ ride at the world championships and Philippe Gilbert’s run of four consecutive victories in the autumn as the major achievements of a squad that underwent an overhaul of sorts during 2009.
“Cadel had a big hand in breaking the ice and winning in Sassuolo, but as our results were not up to expectations, we must not forget that a rider like Philippe Gilbert, however, collected a third place at Flanders, a fourth at Amstel and Liège, in addition to his splendid victory in Anagni, during the Giro d'Italia,” Damiani told Italian website velobike. “I think it would be very wise not to criticise, or at least take into consideration the other placings while emphasising the meaning of the wins."
While Silence-Lotto’s spring campaign was anything but spectacular, when the team arrived at the Tour de France the prognosis looked better, although after the team time trial any hope of contending for overall honours had gone. Instead the focus shifted to the emergence of a future Tour squad leader, Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
The young Belgian finished 15th overall and gave Damiani cause for optimism from a race that was largely forgettable. "I would say that went pretty well. He focused his season on the Tour de France and in my opinion [he] was very good,” said Damiani. “He took 15th place in the standings and taking into account his fall in the time trial, I would say he has done miracles. We’ll hear about him in the future, I'm sure."
Gaps in the personnel
As expected, the departure of Robbie McEwen to Katusha at the end of 2008 left a gaping hole in Silence-Lotto’s ability to record early-season wins and the Belgian squad experienced a lean run until Gilbert’s stage victory in Italy. The former Française des Jeux rider was brought into the team to excel in the Classics, although it wasn’t until the autumn that he really started to fire, winning the Coppa Sabatini, Paris-Tours, Giro del Piemonte and Giro di Lombardia in a phenomenal run of form.
Damiani explained the methods he used to get the most out of his star charge late in the year: “I try to enter the human side and to establish a dialogue more or less deep, with the athlete. Much obviously depends on the character of the athlete. In these cases it may be beneficial to remove any uncertainty or to provide that touch of serenity overall, enabling you to work better and, consequently, to get a little more even in terms of results,” he said.
“That said, we must not forget the good that Philippe Gilbert had already done wearing the jersey of Française des Jeux. Last year he had already won the Paris-Tours. Again, the effort he made at Anagni in the Giro d’Italia was something really extraordinary, plus he was always fighting with the best at the biggest of the cobbled and Ardennes classics,” added Damiani.
The team’s other star rider, Cadel Evans, also experienced glory later in the season, although the relationship between both parties was officially severed shortly after and subsequently Evans announced he would be riding for BMC Racing in 2010. Damiani paid tribute to Evans’ win; the Italian was an addition to Silence-Lotto’s management at the Australian’s behest and as such praised his efforts in the team’s colours. "Cadel’s Tour was below expectations. What happened in Mendrisio, however, is the demonstration - and I especially invite young people to consider this - that sooner or later, if you work in a serious and correct manner, the results arrive,” said Damiani.
“The rainbow jersey did not come by chance. Two podiums in the Tour, one of the Vuelta, a host of placings in the most important races on the calendar… and he was a major player in the world of mountain biking. No one can dispute the consistency and professionalism of Cadel,” he added.
“Regarding the choice about his future - contracts must reserve at times [the inclusion] of particular clauses, which Cadel decided to use. The offer received was very attractive and he accepted. Personally I respect his decision even though I think some risk if it is taken. For my part, I wish him every luck. Cadel is a person endowed with profound honesty and fairness. Working at his side honoured me greatly. "
Looking at 2010
As for next season, Damiani explained that while he is happy working at Silence-Lotto, the absence of a sprinter is a cause of frustration and that next year he’ll be looking to further develop young Belgian Greg Van Avermaet, who had a quiet season after a breakthrough 2008. “I think Van Avermaet as one of the next stars of the Classics in Belgium and beyond… I can see that this may be the case even for a classic like Milano-Sanremo,” said Damiani.
“But we must be clear about what I just said: respect and don’t push him far beyond the pattern of growth. It is clear that after the success in the green jersey in the Vuelta in 2008 and after seven wins during the same season, a little more was expected of him [in 2009]. Instead, in these particular moments, perhaps we need to lower the expectations and invest in the work to be done."
Damiani admitted that the team didn’t perform as it had hoped during 2009, although its focus on youth will be its saving grace next year. “Our mistake was perhaps to have focused on athletes so young and given them too much responsibility. Maybe we relied too heavily on them taking major achievements in the spring classics. Therefore it’s right to respect the times of growth of a young rider."
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