Skil-Shimano Manager Iwan Spekenbrink is confident the hard work done by both the team's riders and support staff during the off-season will translate to stronger performances this season, and in turn invitations to the sport's biggest races.
The team held its team presentation on Thursday in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where they introduced eight new riders to the team, including Frenchmen Matthieu Sprick, Thomas Bonnin and Thomas Damuseau, Germany's Martin Reimer, Roger Kluge, Johannes Fröhlinger and Marcel Kittel, and Dutchman Ronan van Zandbeek. Spekenbrink told Cyclingnews that the team's pragmatic approach to rider selection this year was designed to equip the squad with specific skills for its future.
"We've made a step forward this year and our team is definitely stronger, both immediately and in the longer term," he said. "We made a number of sporting decisions for this year, for example we chose not to extend the contracts of Dominique Cornu and Piet Rooijakkers.
"The riders we've added have experience at the big Tours, like the guys from Milram: Kluge and Fröhlinger, Martin Reimer from Cervélo who was German Champion last year, and Matthieu Sprick, who has finished third in the young rider classification at the Tour de France. But we've got a good balance. Marcel Kittel was the Under-23 German time trial champion and third at the Worlds Under-23 time trial. And Bonnin led the French team at the Tour de l'Avenir. We're really satisfied with our selection for next year."
Spekenbrink has also overseen an overhaul of the team's sponsorship arrangements with its title sponsors joined by a number of new financial supporters. Dutch petroleum company Argos Oil has joined the team as a co-sponsor and has helped to put the outfit in a strong financial position, a key criteria for potential ProTeam selection in the future. But Spekenbrink was coy about the team's prospects for promotion to the top tier of teams, declaring instead that the squad's primary goal is to secure invitations to top races.
While sound organisation is one thing, the team will need to increase its presence on the road. Last season, Skil-Shimano finished 31st out of the 32 teams listed on the UCI's World Rankings, however Spekenbrink is confident that the team's structure can produce strong, consistent results.
"Our current sponsors and our new sponsors have helped us to increase our budget and to increase the level of the team. The real goal is just to be in the biggest races, and the level of licence is just a means to achieve that. We want to get there [a ProTeam licence] but in line with our philosophy and the way we work," he said. "We're not going to race blindly, simply chasing [UCI] points, we will stick to our plan and move from step-to-step. We will aim to take part in some big races."
No Tour de France this year
But the team learned yesterday that it had missed out on selection to the biggest race of them all, the Tour de France. Spekenbrink admitted to being disappointed after missing out, but defended the wildcard selections of race organiser Amaury Sports Organisation.
"We do need to ride a Grand Tour [this year]. In line with our race programme it would be ideal to race the Tour de France and/or the Vuelta a Espana he said. "[Missing out on] the Tour is not a very big surprise to be honest because they've selected four good French teams. I have no complaints at all about these four teams - they're all very good. We had hoped we'd make it and in my opinion we were very close, but it's a mixed feeling about missing out on an invite."
The team's season will get underway at the Tour de Langkawi on Sunday, where they will be led by sprinter Kenny van Hummel. While details of the squad's full calendar are yet to be revealed, Spekenbrink is satisfied with the preliminary programme and the riders' preparation for the 2011 season.
"We have a good calendar with Spring Classics and a number of World Tour stage races. And we have to trust and hope that we will receive an invitation to a Grand Tour," he said. "We know we have a stronger team and we put a lot of work into it in the past few months, our sporting staff did a great job with the riders. I think we're stronger that we were 12 months ago and 24 months ago, too. We want to see that translated to races, so I think you can expect a lot from our team this year."
Skil-Shimano for 2011
Robin Chaigneau (Netherlands)
Roy Curvers (Netherlands)
Kenny van Hummel (Netherlands)
Koen de Kort (Netherlands)
Albert Timmer (Netherlands)
Tom Veelers (Netherlands)
Ronan van Zandbeek (Netherlands)
Thomas Bonnin (France)
Thomas Damuseau (France)
Alexandre Geniez (France)
Yann Huguet (France)
Thierry Hupond (France)
Matthieu Sprick (France)
Johannes Fröhlinger (Germany)
Simon Geschke (Germany)
Marcel Kittel (Germany)
Roger Kluge (Germany)
Martin Reimer (Germany)
Bert De Backer (Belgium)
Yukihiro Doi (Japan)
Feng Han (China)
Cheng Ji (China)
Mitchell Docker (Australia)