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Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol)
Belgian team realistic about Classics after loss of Gilbert
You can only work with the tools at your disposal and Lotto-Belisol's manager Marc Sergeant's body language said exactly that at the end of Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. Their highest placed finisher, Jens Debusschere, crossed the line in 24th place and although Sergeant admitted that this was not a full-strength line-up, he said that his team were building to the future.
It's a stark contrast to 2011, when Philippe Gilbert who pulled out 25 wins in a scintillating season that ran from January through to October.
"We didn't expect a lot coming into the race. Lets just say that's a story you'll hear a lot from us in the next few races," Sergeant told Cyclingnews at the finish in Waregem.
Depsite Gilbert's move to BMC, Lotto by no means has a weak squad, with Andre Greipel and Greg Henderson forming a useful alliance in bunch sprints. However, with the duo resting after Milan-San Remo and Jürgen Roelandts continuing his rehabilitation after a serious crash at the Tour Down Under, Sergeant has limited options at his disposal.
"We've missed Jürgen a few times already this season and today was a race for him. We didn't have a lot of opportunities for other races. For next weekend we can set up a good team around Andre at Gent-Wevelgem but I'm a little bit afraid for Friday at E3 [Prijs Vlaanderen]."
Sergeant's practical stance is coupled with a stern belief that despite a lack of results he is building a strong base of riders for the future of his team and Belgian cycling. He pointed to Jens Debusschere as just one of the team's up-and-coming riders.
"The rest of the squad is made up of young riders and learning at these races isn't an easy task. It's an investment in the future but it's not one that pays in the short-term. We need some time now and if there's one positive it's that we can ride without pressure.
"Jens was almost there today, just a few riders back from the break, and was missing the last ten meters. We've got some talent in this team but it's young."
Any team this decade would struggle to fill the vacuum Gilbert left at the end of last season, such was his dominance and strike rate in 2010 and 2011, but his presence on the team led to more than just a safety net of results for Lotto, and Sergeant added that some riders have struggled.
"Last year things looked a lot easier than they were. Now we have to get the riders to think about their own chances, while last time it was all about working to get Gilbert into position. Now they need to figure it out for themselves, where they need to be but I'm sure that we'll develop some really good riders here."