A new era for Dutch cycling began at the Tour de France when the Team Belkin made its first competitive appearance, less than a week after the formal announcement of a two-and-a-half year agreement between what was Team Blanco and the American consumer electronics' manufacturer.
Standing outside the team's newly decorated bus in the Tour's start village in Porto-Vecchio, Belkin team manager Richard Plugge confessed: "It's an exciting day for us. We're starting with new kit, a new team. We did have a similar experience when we started with Blanco, but with Belkin we can look ahead to the next two-and-a-half years and that's really great news."
Plugge said he has been telling Belkin CEO Chet Pipkin what to expect at the Tour, but added that nothing he could say could really prepare the team's new backer for the reality. "They are excited because they are stepping into a new world that they didn't know anything about before and they are seeing now what it can do for them. It's a bit like telling someone what their life is going to be like after they have a child. It's a completely different sensation when they actually go through that experience," said Plugge.
He confirmed the team would be sticking with its successful policy of scouting and fostering young talent rather than bringing in established names. "We've got a reputation for bringing through young riders, it's what we've been good at, and we're still going to focus on that. You won't see us buying a 32-year-old former grand tour name, someone who's a big star already," he said. "But for now our focus now can switch to the race. We're getting behind Bauke Mollema for the overall classification. We're looking to him for a top 10 finish."
Speaking to Procycling's Daniel Friebe in the start village, Belkin CEO Pipkin revealed the thinking behind the deal. "The process we went through as an organisation was to find ways to be able to activate the brand in ways that were very authentic to the brand. There's a lot of great things about cycling that really matched up with the Belkin brand, including how approachable the sport is, the fact that it's a global sport, there's a lot innovation in the sport and a great combination of both team and individual achievement. Personally, I didn't have a lot of involvement with the sport prior to this, but I'm very excited to be a part of it," said Pipkin.
Asked about the issue of doping given past ructions in the sport and within what was the Rabobank team, Belkin said: "One of the things we really love about this team is that even before we could get to the topic they were shouting very loudly and clearly about the values of the team, and how important it was to them to have zero tolerance to doping. I think if they hadn't been proactive in bringing up this issue, we would definitely have got to the question. I think we've got a huge advantage coming into the sport right now. Based upon what we can see today, we really like what we see."