Vacansoleil's Johnny Hoogerland will start Etoile de Bessèges this week, fresh from a second place finish at the French season opener, GP de la Marseillaise on Sunday. With the 2010 Tour de France to begin in Rotterdam, Hoogerland is hopeful that a strong early season showing will improve his Dutch team's chances of securing an invitation to the French Grand Tour.
The 26-year-old Dutchman finished second to Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) in a tight sprint finish at Sunday's Marseillaise after the two joined a late-race escape group that finished 11 seconds clear of the peloton. Though disappointed with his narrow defeat, Hoogerland told Cyclingnews on Tuesday that there were positive conclusions to be drawn from the result.
"I did a lot of work in the off-season so I expected to be in good shape. I was disappointed I lost the sprint," Hoogerland said. "It's always hard to judge how the form will be during the first few races of the season, but I'm pleased to see that my condition is good."
Hoogerland's second place finish on Sunday was also backed up by top-ten results for Vacansoleil debutants Brice and Romain Feillu. While no guarantee of a wild card invitation to Tour de France, the strong performance by the Dutch team on French soil will do them no harm when Tour organisers decide on the teams that will line up in Rotterdam on July 3.
"The team is going really well. All the [early season] races are important," said Hoogerland. "It's critical we catch they eye of ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation), so we need to be ready to go well in every race."
The next chance for Vacansoleil to catch the eye of ASO will be Etoile de Bessèges, which gets underway on Wednesday in the coastal southern-French town of Aigues Mortes.
Hoogerland said that while the traditionally sprinter-friendly race was unlikely to present him an opportunity like Marseillaise, his team will be well represented by a glut of strong fast-men. He named Vuelta a España stage winner Borut Bozic and off-season recruit Alberto Ongarato as strong candidates to secure Vacansoleil's first win of the year.
"Bessèges is a funny race," he said. "Marseillaise is a hard one day race, but Bessèges is five days and they're generally suited to sprinters, so it tends to be fairly easy going [as the bunch stays together for the sprints]. We've got four good sprinters, so I'm confident we can perform strongly."
Vacansoleil for Etoile de Bessèges: Borut Bozic (Slo), Gorik Gardeyn (Bel), Johnny Hoogerland (Ned), Bjorn Leukemans (Bel), Marco Marcato (Ita), Alberto Ongarato (Ita), Joost Van Leyen (Ned) and Frédéric Veuchelen (Bel).