Riders from the Belkin team have returned to Chengmai in China for the Tour of Hainan, where they took an unprecedented clean sweep of the stages and overall classification in 2013.
Moreno Hofland captains the Dutch team once again twelve months after he took his first professional victory on the Chinese island. Belkin has selected a fast team for the stage race as they foresee a majority of bunch sprint finishes during the nine stages. However a mountain stage is expected to play a huge part in the final overall classification.
Last year’s six-time stage winner Theo Bos is currently at the European track championship in Guadeloupe, so Australia’s Graeme Brown will ride alongside Dutchmen Barry Markus, Nick Van der Lijke, Dennis van Winden, Tom Leezer, Jetse Bol and Hofland. Six of them are continuing a Chinese campaign after also competing in the Tour of Beijing.
“China is a big market for Belkin,” said Hofland of the exiting sponsor whose green colours will appear for the last time in a road race at the Tour of Hainan.
“I liked the race last year and not only because I won it. I also like racing at the end of the season. It helped me start the following season on form. Reporters in Europe asked me a lot about the Tour of Hainan and how much it’s been a milestone in my career. It's been important. The team had confidence in me before my win but much more after it.”
Hofland and the Belkin team visited the Fushan Coffee Culture Village on the eve of the ninth edition of the Tour of Hainan, where they got a warm welcome from the Chinese cycling fans.
“People expect that I win again but there’s a mountain top finish this year on stage 7. The route profile is less to my advantage than last year. So we’ll target stage wins first,” Hofland explained.
“We have Barry Markus and Graeme Brown who can also win bunch sprints. We’ll start from there and if we can get a good overall ranking we’ll go for it as well but we might not win everything this year. With Astana and Lampre-Merida, the level is a bit higher than last year.”
Ending the season on a high note
Despite the competition, the 23 year-old wants to finish his second pro season on a high note.
“I’m happy with my results but I crashed at the Tour of California and I’ve been sick on a few occasions”, he explained.
“I pulled out of the Vuelta (after stage eight) because of an infection in my throat three weeks after the same thing happened at the Tour of Utah. I think the altitude training camps cost me too much energy. I’m young and the experience helped me know more about myself. I hope to do a Grand Tour again next year and I’ll train for it at sea level.”
“I would have liked to be more consistent this year. When I was good, I was really good, otherwise I was sick. But had I been told that I’d win a stage at Paris-Nice and four other races, I would have signed up for it at the beginning of the year.”
And it’s not over, Hofland is confident of his end of season form.
“I went pretty well at the Tour of Beijing”, he said. “I didn’t win any stages, I finished fourth, fifth and sixth but I felt strong. Last year I got a third place but I was more solid this time around. It makes me confident for the Tour of Hainan.”