Rafa Valls will ride for Lotto Soudal for the 2016 and 2017 seasons after two seasons with Lampre-Merida. The 28-year-old adds firepower to the Belgian team's general classification aspirations after the departure of Jurgen Van den Broeck to Katusha.
Valls won the queen stage and overall at the Tour of Oman in February this season, going onto the place eighth overall at Paris-Nice and Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, and 11th overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné before a fourth Tour de France appearance. Illness forced Valls out of the Vuelta a Espana with the Tour his last professional outing this season.
"Lotto Soudal offers me, with this two-year deal, a nice chance to take a step forward in my career," Valls said. "They give me the opportunity to prove myself in stage races of one week. It is this type of races that I prefer and so far I've also had my best results in such races. Next year as well, I will focus on this type of stage races. My strongest point is my climbing capacity. I am still trying to improve my time trial skills as the races against the clock are often very important in stage races of one week.
"I really love riding in Vuelta al País Vasco, the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Paris-Nice. On the very top of my to-do list with favourite races there is the Tour de France, like most cyclists."
Prior to joining Lampre-Merida, Valls for the Dutch Vacansoleil squad and as a result is familir with several of his future teammates, including Tomasz Marczynski who was also announced a new signing by the team this week.
"For the first time in my career I will ride for a Belgian team," Valls added. "I know Belgium a bit thanks to the Ardennes Classics and also from back in the day when I rode for Vacansoleil. I still know some Lotto Soudal riders (Kris Boeckmans, Thomas De Gendt and Pim Ligthart) from my period with Vacansoleil so it will be nice to ride for the same team again it will be nice to ride for the same team again.
"The Lotto Soudal team forms a strong unity, which really appeals to me. The riders support each other. When you see that, you want to be part of that team. This mentality will definitely stimulate me to pursue my goals and to focus on the stage races of one week."
Lotto Soudal manager Marc Sergeant explained Valls is an important addition to the team and believes he can continue to develop as a GC rider with the team
"Rafael, with his 28 years is someone who is coming into his best years as a cyclist and will get the opportunity to go for an overall classification in this kind of races," Sergeant said, adding "during this year he proved more than capable to take WorldTour-points. Next to our riders like Bart De Clercq, Maxime Monfort, Louis Vervaeke and Thomas De Gendt I am very confident that we will achieve better results and can race even more attractive."
The addition of Polish and Spanish riders is not only for sporting reasons as Sergeant explained the team sponsors will enjoyed further exposure from the duo next season.
"Yes, we reinforce our team with two foreign riders but in Belgium there aren't that many riders who have the potential to succeed in this type of races, and the riders who do are already on our team," Sergeant said. "But we want to do even better. And next to the Belgian Lotto we also have Soudal, Ridley Bikes and Vasco Data Security partners who are active abroad. For them, a foreign contribution is an added value."