Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam will again lead Belkin’s Tour de France challenge, while Sep Vanmarcke will be on hand to guide them through the pavé on the road to Arenberg on stage 5. The Dutch squad formally announced its nine-man team on Wednesday morning.
Mollema finished 6th overall last year after being in contention for a podium place through the opening two weeks. The Dutchman confirmed his current form with a third place finish at the Tour de Suisse last weekend, but was coy about his prospects of finishing in the top five – or higher – at this year’s race.
“I feel just as good as last year at this same time, maybe even slightly better,” Mollema said. “That doesn’t automatically mean that I will achieve better results, however. Everyone has slightly higher expectations of course, but I don’t have any problems with that.”
Mollema has also listed winning a stage among his ambitions, although, as he discovered last year, occupying a high place in the general classification would make that target more difficult. He identified the cobbled stage to Arenberg as the site of the first major shake-up in the overall standings.
“The cobbled stage will be an important day for the GC riders, but I’ve reconned it and it went well. We have a strong team, which will definitely benefit me on that day,” he said.
Mollema can rely on the support of Sep Vanmarcke and Lars Boom on that occasion. Vanmarcke - second and fourth at the past two editions of Paris-Roubaix - pointed out that the Tour stage will pose a completely different challenge to the Queen of the Classics.
“It won’t be anything similar to Paris-Roubaix, however. The distance isn’t long enough and there are too few cobbled sections,” he said.
Like Mollema, Ten Dam enjoyed a fine opening to the Tour only to fade in the final week and finish 13th overall. That was the same place he occupied at the end of the Tour de Suisse, and he joked that it might be a portent of sorts. "Last year in the build-up to the Tour, I also finished 13th in the Critérium du Dauphiné," he said.
While Mollema is the outright leader of the team, Ten Dam has been afforded a free role in the Belkin line-up. “As always, it’s the most important race of the year and I just hope to do as well as possible,” he said.
The line-up features just two changes from last year’s selection. Robert Gesink, who is still recovering from a medical procedure for a heart problem, and Lars-Peter Nordhaug miss out this time, and are replaced by Stef Clement and Steven Kruijswijk. They are joined in the team by Tom Leezer, Bram Tankink and Maarten Wynants.
The Dutch squad approach the Tour burdened by the pressure to find a new title sponsor for the 2015 season after Belkin announced last week that it will withdraw its backing at the end of this year.
The team lost long-term sponsor Rabobank in October 2012 and began last season under the Blanco moniker before finding a replacement backer in Belkin just ahead of the Tour de France.
Belkin team for the Tour de France: Lars Boom, Stef Clement, Laurens ten Dam, Steven Kruijswijk, Tom Leezer, Bauke Mollema, Bram Tankink, Sep Vanmarcke and Maarten Wynants.