Omega Pharma-Lotto's Jurgen Van Den Broeck says he is ready for the pressure of a team captain at the start of a season which will see the 26-year-old aim for a top-ten overall finish at the 2010 Tour de France.
Van Den Broeck's promotion to Tour team leader status has been accelerated by the departure of the team's previous general classification leader and current World Road Champion, Cadel Evans, at the end of last year.
With a 7th place finish at the 2008 Giro d'Italia and a 15th place finish at the 2009 Tour on his palmares, Van Den Broeck told Cyclingnews he was confident he can make the next step up the Tour ladder.
"All of the pressure is on me for the Tour now, but it's a big opportunity to show what I can do in the Tour," he said at his team's training camp in Majorca, Spain.
"I've proven I can go top-ten in the Giro and now I will try for the same in the Tour. I'm also looking to the future; this year I'm 27, so I still have some years to improve. Cadel, too, started in this team by making his goal top-ten and then each year higher and higher. It's a year earlier that he left the team, but we'll make the best of it."
Omega Pharma-Lotto Team Manager Marc Sargeant told Cyclingnews he, too, is confident his young charge can respond to the responsibility of leadership, but is conscious that there is no need to rush his progression any further. "In Belgium, they're all thinking the stress will kill him, but I don’t think so," he said.
"He was prepared to work for Cadel for another year, we'd already agreed on that. Now, he has to prove for himself that he can have a good result. Last year's Tour gave him a boost of confidence because he discovered he can do more than he thought with the best guys in the Tour. You can do well in the Giro, but the Tour is another story, and now he's had that confirmation. He's full of confidence and I think he's going to do really well."
While he will bear responsibility within his team for a high finish at the Tour, he will also have the full support of his squad – a luxury not afforded to him whilst Evans had been in the team. It's an asset Van Den Broeck is already turning to his advantage. "I think [a lot of my teammates are] motivated to get into good condition for the Tour to try and help me finish as high as possible. For me mentally it's very good to know that the team want to work for me; it gives me a lot of energy to train hard."
One of the riders he will be able to count on will be Daniel Moreno, who has joined the team from Caisse d'Epargne this year. The Spaniard, who confirmed his own ability to record a high Grand Tour finish with 11th at the 2009 Vuelta a España, will form a potentially potent combination when the Tour hits the Alps and Pyrenees.
"I have a good relationship with him and, for sure, we can share [the responsibility]," said Van Den Broeck. "If we're both good at the Tour, in a mountain stage two in the finale is always better than one. I think we'll head to the race with the aim of doing well in the mountain stages and we'll see how it works out."
Van Den Broeck will return to Majorca later this month and is scheduled start his season at the Challenge Majorca on February 7. Like 2009, he will once again limber up for the Tour at the Dauphiné Libéré, but signalled a strong performance in Paris-Nice as an early season goal.
"I have Paris-Nice on my programme and I want to be good there, but after that the Tour is going to be the main goal of the season," he said. "Before Paris-Nice I'm doing [Challenge] Majorca, Ruta Del Sol and then the last preparation for the Tour is going to be the Dauphiné Libéré. The guys that are good in the Dauphiné are usually good in the Tour. I'll try to finish high in the Dauphiné without throwing away too much energy for the Tour."