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The Belkin Pro Cycling riders trained in their new green, white and black colours around Porto Vecchio on Thursday morning after being the first team to hold their pre-race press on board the huge ferry that is the floating press centre for the Tour de France stages in Corsica.
Bauke Mollema, Robert Gesink, Sep Vanmarcke Lars Boom and their teammates sat shoulder to shoulder, with new team leader Mollema in the middle.
Mollema, and not Robert Gesink, will be the team's protected rider throughout the Tour de France, with directeur sportif Nico Verhoeven confirming the team's goal of a good overall classification and stage victories when the sprinters do not dominate the racing.
Chet Pipkin, the owner of Belkin and a reported billionaire, was also at the press conference, reiterating his optimism and hopes for the team after agreeing to back them for the next two and half years. Mollema finished second overall at the Tour de Suisse and trained specifically for the Tour de France with teammate Lars Peter Nordhaug at altitude in Sierra Nevada in the south of Spain.
"Nobody knows now what I can do but I just hope to finish as high up on GC as possible," Mollema said with a nervous laugh and smile, clearly enjoying being in the spotlight but aware of the pressure on his shoulders.
"We've got a strong team, I had good preparation in the Sierra Nevada. We'll go for maximum. We'll see. I feel ok and ready. I've been here for Critérium International, it's a nice island for cycling. Maybe not the best place to start a race, especially the Tour de France because the roads are narrow and dangerous. There are lots of corners, so the first few days will be stressful."
Gesink has been moved aside in the team hierarchy but seems ready to accept the role, pointing out that he rode the Giro d'Italia and has not prepared specifically for the Tour. He crashed in the Dutch road race championships but insisted his bruised ribs will not be problem.
"Of course it’s a bit of a change for me but I'm pretty excited about it," he said. "For me doing the GC after Giro was not an option because it needs focus, so I'm happy to have a strong leader. He showed he's good in Suisse and so deserves his chance. I'll support him, as will the rest of team will."
"I'm ok after my crash. I have some bruising on my ribs and I can feel it on the bike and when I'm sleeping but I'll be fine for the mountain. There's no problems with that."
Froome is the favourite
Mollema and Team Belkin accept that the Dutchman is not an overall favourite, despite his solid performance in Switzerland. He picks Froome, Contador and Rodriguez as his riders who are likely to finish on the podium in Paris.
"For me Froome is the big favourite," Mollema said. "He's been strong all year, last year he was the strongest on the climbs and has a strong team, even for the team time trial. But Contador and Rodriguez can perhaps attack him in the mountains. Those are the biggest three for me."
The racing will be stressful but the riders were clearly relieved that Belkin has come onboard as title sponsor and secured the future of the team.
"I think we're more relaxed and confident at the same time now," Mollema said. "If you don't have a sponsor you start to look and thinking about your future. Being able to present Belkin as the new sponsor has made us all happy. Belkin is a great company and a good sponsor."