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Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) leads Javier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) across the finish line.
Ardennes classics return to Belgian's programme
Van den Broeck has taken two fourth places at the Tour, in 2010 and 2012, but hopes that he can make the step up next season. "That's what we're working for," he told Cyclingnews. "It's a nice parcours. The beginning won't be easy and then we've got the cobbles, which will be a tricky stage.
"It can be a benefit, but if you have bad luck with a flat tyre or something then you don't have any more benefit. Ok, I know how to ride on the cobblestones, but I think everybody knows."
As they have done for the last few years, Lotto-Belisol will combine their general classification challenge with André Greipel's sprint ambitions. Van den Broeck doesn't think this will hurt his chances.
"I think we've showed every year that we've been able to do it," said Van den Broeck. "We've found a way to be able to do it and it's worked out well. I'm not afraid of that. They (Sky and Astana) have another target. We want a podium and they're going for the win. If you want the win, that's another thing."
The 30-year-old Belgian will kick off his 2014 season at Argentina's Tour de San Luis, where he finished fifth at the beginning of this year. From there Van den Broeck will head back to Europe for the Challenge Mallorca and then to the Middle East for the Tour of Oman.
Tirreno-Adriatico also features in his schedule for the first time, to give him a tougher challenge early on. "I wanted to have a big race at the beginning of the season," said Van den Broeck. "I've done Paris-Nice before, but that's not really my race. I've never done Tirreno, so the decision was pretty easy to do that."
Alongside the Tour, the Belgian will be targeting the Ardennes Classics. "I skipped them this year, but next year they're back on my programme," he told Cyclingnews. The Belgian hoped that missing the Ardennes week in April would allow him to find his Tour de France form.
While Van den Broeck believes he was on form at the start of this year's Tour de France on Corsica, nonetheless he thinks skipping the Ardennes races wasn't the right thing to do. The decision to put them back into his calendar was a mutual one. "My trainer wanted it, the team wanted it and I wanted it. I skipped them this year and it was a bit of a test to see how it was. It didn't turn out so well, so we decided to go back there and to the Tour de Romandie."
Back on the bike
Van den Broeck has had a lot of time to think about the 2014 season, after his year was cut short on stage five of the Tour de France. He was caught up in a finish line crash as the peloton raced into Marseille. The Belgian immediately had to quit the race, suffering from ligament, cartilage and bone damage in the accident.
Over the following months, Van den Broeck had to undergo surgery and intense physiotherapy on his knee, leaving him unable to race or train for the remainder of the season.
"The first few months weren't so easy, because I was having to go to the physio every day for four or five hours. After a few months of doing those exercises every day you just get tired of it. I just wanted to go on the bike, but I wasn't good so I had to wait a little bit longer."
He was finally able to get back to training in the middle of October. Despite this, he says that it hasn't set him back. "I can do like I normally do now, in this time of the year," said the Lotto rider. "We tried it with the five-day training camp in November, just to see how it went. I did some rides in the mountains and everything was ok. Then we knew that I could begin my preparation.
"My trainer thought that my form wouldn't be so good anymore, because I had been out for so long. It was the opposite, I was better than in other winters. The work with the physio is also good. It's not the same as being on the bike, but when you do the exercises and the aqua running it's also pretty intense. I did it two or three times a week and it was pretty good training for my form."