The Dane greeted the team’s successes in Harelbeke and the Criterium International last weekend by tweeting “And to the critics we go: shhhhhhh,” and he explained that he felt his team had been prematurely criticised in the season’s opening weeks.
“We’d been second so many times, and there were certain people who were saying that ‘yeah, maybe they aren’t as strong as they said they’d be’ but I knew we were going to be strong for the big races,” Nygaard told Cyclingnews in Kortrijk. “I knew that we would be good in these big races and that’s where I expect us to perform and I expect us to take home a couple of wins over the next week if we do everything right.
“It’s nice to look at rankings in January and February, but the rankings end in October and that’s what I want to be measured on. Obviously we will be good in the classics, we’ll be extremely good in the Tour and of course we want to do well on the whole season, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge a team on the first couple of months of racing and then have an opinion on whether we’re good or not.”
One potential cause for concern from last weekend’s racing was that Daniele Bennati was Leopard Trek’s only finisher in Gent-Wevelgem. However, Nygaard explained that as the remainder of the team had participated in the previous day’s E3 Prijs, it was only to be expected that they would suffer in the finale.
“All of the guys had left everything they had on the road on Saturday, and when you have three or four of the big teams coming with fresh guys, realistically of course we’re going to be missing out on some guys in the final,” he said, before praising Bennati’s efforts. “Daniele rode with so much class, with such ease on the Kemmel, he placed himself so intelligently.”
While Bennati will forgo the rest of the classics in order to focus on the Giro d’Italia, Nygaard confessed that it was tempting to slot the Italian into the Tour of Flanders line-up given his form.
“It really was tempting, but he knows well enough not to jeopardise his chances in the Giro,” he said. “Plus, the eight guys we have here are strong enough. Daniele would add a lot of value but if you think short term too many times in the season you’re going to burn too many matches.”
In the wake of his second place in Wevelgem, Bennati claimed that he would have been capable of winning stages at the Volta a Catalunya, but felt that his podium place in Belgium was a greater athletic achievement. Nygaard acknowledged that his team’s philosophy was to focus on bigger objectives, but pointed out that victories of any colour were always welcome.
“I’m not going to say no to any victory. The first race we won was Grand Prix Samyn and we were dancing with joy in the office,” Nygaard said. “A win is a win and it’s always really nice to win bike races, but some of the guys that we have, they really plan their season around the monuments and the Tour, and to a certain degree other races.
“You could do performance planning where you really want to win every race that is to be won in January, but I can’t show up here in April and say ‘sorry, we left it all in Australia.’”
While Nygaard denied that anything short of victory would constitute failure for his charges on Sunday, he did express his belief that his squad was well-placed after last weekend’s success. “All in all, we have everything to rely on because self-confidence is obviously quite high,” he said.