On Tuesday, October 2 at 'the Ark' in Antwerp, Fidea presented its 2007/2008 cyclo-cross team. This year the team features ten riders, six of whom are pros with the remaining four riding in the U23 ranks. The team features no fewer than three championship jerseys in it ranks: current world champion Erwin Vervecken leads the squad which also includes Belgian champion Bart Wellens and Czech champion Petr Dlask.
"It is the fourth year that we are presenting the team to the media. Every year we want to present ourselves as more professional," commented Fidea team manager, Hans van Kasteren to HLN. "We no longer have any 'elite without contract' riders in our squad, which is new this year, because I want to make sure that the U23 riders can make the transition directly to the pros. Our goal for this season is to win 25 races with our elite riders. It makes no difference if they are won in the Superprestige or the GVA trophy. But there has to be at least one championship jersey among them, either the Worlds or the Belgian tri-colour. In the U23 we are aiming for 10 wins," said Van Kasteren of the team's season goals.
One may be excused for thinking that the team goals are set somewhat high, but with riders of the calibre of Wellens and Vervecken they are certainly achievable. "Sven Nys may have won 30 races last year but he didn't get the cherry on top because Erwin Vervecken took the world champions jersey, and Bart Wellens is riding in the black yellow and red jersey [of Belgian champion] - they are two jerseys that stick out. I can see my team achieving the goals that we have set."
The team's presentation included a video that took a look back at the 2007 Worlds. That race which featured the crash that caused Wellens to break his wrist, an injury that is still causing some problems. "I had been warned that that this injury could act up as the weather becomes cold and damp" Wellens said. "They were right. I hope that this injury, tendonitis in my right wrist, gets better quickly, as I may ride for a whole season in the National champion's jersey again. It is a nice piece of clothing," he said proudly.
Wellens has yet to stand atop the podium this season, but that is not something that is worrying him. "That has been calculated into my program. From Ruddervoorde later in the month, I want to slowly get better and better. Besides, the season is still long," he explained. "I was severely held up in my preparations for the season by an insect bite and spent a week in the hospital which caused me to miss the Tour of China," he added.
"I compensated for that by riding a number of post-Tour criteriums. I still have pain, but I can suppress that like the burden of a mild cold," he said referring to his right wrist. "I wouldn't be the only one that is affected by that after the nice weather that we have had the past few weeks."
After winning his three World Championships, first in Tabor, then in Zeddam and finally last year in Hooglede-Gits, Erwin Vervecken is not setting his hopes too high for claiming a fourth world title in Treviso. "Treviso, where the title will be decided in 2008, doesn't suit me so well," explained Vervecken.
"The race will be a lottery. Hofstade suits me better, and that is where the Belgian championships will be decided. Naturally, I want to ride around in this jersey [the world champion's jersey] for another year, but taking over the jersey that now belongs to Bart Wellens wouldn't be a tragedy either."
Vervecken is scheduled to race in America this coming weekend - an experience that he is looking forward too. "I will maybe take my first and second win of the season. I am looking forward to riding there," he explained.
Vervecken and the rest of the Fidea team have enjoyed a gradual build up to the 'cross season, one which included riding the Tour of China at altitude under the guidance of Sports Director Danny de Bie, himself an ex-world champion. Vervecken believes that this approach suits him the best and will see him come into form at the business end of the season.
"I always take it a little easier in the beginning of the season. I want to be 100% when the real races come around. My motto is: build up slow and steady," Vervecken concluded.
Fidea cycling team for 2007 / 2008: Elite: Erwin Vervecken, Bart Wellens, Kevin Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout, Zdenek Stybar (Cze) en Petr Dlask (Cze). U23: Vincent Baestaens, Quentin Bertholet, Tom Meeusen and Jempy Drucker (Lux).