Marc Sergeant was full of anticipation and excitement as the 2011 Tour France was unveiled in Paris on Tuesday. The Omega-Pharma Lotto manager saw a race route suited to his young climber Jurgen Van den Broeck, while he also told Cyclingnews that he will send Philippe Gilbert and Andre Greipel to the French grand tour.
Van den Broeck finished fifth in the 2010 race, surpassing many expectations with a display full of aggression and skill. With Greipel joining the team from HTC-Columbia and Sergeant believing that Gilbert is ideally suited to certain stages in the first week of racing, Lotto have the makings of one of the most potent teams in next year’s race.
“It’s a tour perfect for the climbers with not that many time trial kilometres. The third week, as ever, will be decisive,” Sergeant told Cyclingnews.
While he refused to nominate Van den Broeck as a potential winner for 2011, Sergeant does believe that the Belgian can improve on his 2010 ride.
“If he wants to finish higher he needs to plan on attacking and taking some time. Otherwise if you just follow wheels you’ll finish between fifth and tenth. With the confidence he has now and the work he’s put in, he can aim for higher. Saying he can win the Tour is very ambitious though. I saw Andy Schleck this year and he was clearly better, Contador too and Menchov did a great time trial. It’s about being strong for three weeks and attacking.”
Part of Lotto’s strength, according to Sergeant, could also lie in the fact that they will retain their GC contender while the likes of the Schlecks, Contador, Menchov and Sastre all have to build up with new team around them.
“You’ve got to factor in that all the teams are splitting. Before you had teams like CSC but now the Schlecks have their own team, Sastre has another team, Menchov has moved too and there have been a lot of transfers. That’s good for the race but also good for us as we have continuity.”
With a sprinter and a GC contender, Lotto has turned back the clock to the days when they split their ambitions between Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen. According to Sergeant, they’re well equipped to take on a Tour de France with multiple aims.
“One or two guys stayed with Jurgen last year, but we were aggressive and in the breaks and that takes guys too. If we work for Greipel, we do that, and if it’s for Jurgen, it’s for Jurgen.”
Griepel will take centre stage on the flat stages, where he will compete against his former teammate Mark Cavendish. The HTC sprinter has won 15 stages in the last three year but Sergeant believes that his new hire can match him.
“The guys left in the cold are the sprinters because there are not that many opportunities for them. We promised Greipel that he will be in the Tour, so he will go there. He can beat Cavendish. Look, Petacchi did it, it’s not easy but it can be done.”