A late surge of wins in Italy propelled Wanty-Groupe Gobert to the overall win in the 2017 UCI Europe Tour for the second consecutive year, a result the Belgian Pro Continental team hopes will garner another Tour de France invitation next year.
With a Tour de France appearance limiting the team’s UCI points in July, Wanty-Groupe Gobert lagged behind Cofidis in the season-long Continental series. A surge of wins starting in August after the Tour de France made up the difference, however, with the team finishing 31 points ahead of Cofidis and 241 ahead of Androni-Sidermec
"Three weeks ago I told general manager Jean-François Bourlart that we would win the Europe Tour,” said team director Hilaire Van der Schueren. “At that moment we were 500 points behind, but I know how the system works.
“We changed our way of riding,” Van der Schueren said. “We rode to pick up points and that brings benefits.”
Guillaume Martin started off the post-Tour win streak with a stage win and the overall at the Tour du Limousin in August. Jerome Baugnies added a win at Druivenkoers-Overijse, and Tom Devriendt another at Omloop van het Houtland Lichtervelde. Martin continued the run of wins with a stage and the overall at Tour du Gévaudan Languedoc-Roussillon, while track specialist Kenny Dehaes seized victory at Gooikse Pijl.
Martin kept things rolling in Italy with a stage win and the overall at Giro della Toscana, and Andrea Pasqualon finished it off with victory at the one-day Coppa Sabatini.
"This year was even more special to win the Europe Tour because we did not get any points in July because of our participation in the Tour. We need to prepare for that next year," Van der Schueren said.
“I'm very pleased with this season. By the end of 2016 everyone said, ‘You cannot do better. You can not equal the victory of Gasparotto in the Amstel and the Europe Tour win,’” Van der Schueren said. “With participation in the Tour and a second final victory in the Europe Tour, I think we did."
Positioning for another Tour de France invitation
As part of the preparations for next year, Wanty-Groupe Gobert has already started lobbying for another Tour de France wildcard invitation. The team sent Martin, their up-and-coming Frenchman, and Van der Schueren to the recent 2018 route presentation in Paris, and they both came away with a favourable impression.
"I certainly trust in returning to the Tour,” Van der Schueren said. “We showed ourselves in the past edition and won the UCI Europe Tour again. It will not be easy for ASO to pass us."
Martin scored the team’s best result in the 2017 French Grand Tour when he placed third on stage 8 to Station des Rousses, leading in a large group that finished 50 seconds behind breakaway survivors Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The 24-year-old said he was excited about the 2018 parcours.
"There is a stage for everyone. For a Belgian team with riders as ours, there are definitely opportunities in the first week. Especially in the Roubaix stage, if we are invited, my teammates can perform on the cobbles,” he said. "There will be a lot of adrenaline that day. For my part that day will be difficult. But if I lose time there are two more weeks to chase stage wins or something else."
Martin said he is especially looking forward to the 108km stage 11 route from Albertville to La Rosière, because it is similar to the stage he won at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2015.
"Then there are a lot of stages that suit riders with my profile, but also a day with no less than 5,000 altitude meters,” he said. “With the cobbles, the first week will be extreme, but that will be the same case in the mountains. We must specifically prepare ourselves to shine in both short and long stages. I will have to train to respond from the start, which is not my strongest point."
Van der Schueren expressed confidence that his squad could excel in the first week, especially on the cobbles, but he insisted they could be in the thick of the action in the final stages as well.
“We must also prepare ourselves for the team time trial that should suit us,” he said. “In the short stages, it will not be easy to get within the time limit, but that is Le Tour. We have to prepare ourselves well and present ourselves in great condition.”