Belgian on course for Tour de France 2012
After the departure of Philippe Gilbert to the BMC team it's up to a man like Jurgen Van den Broeck to seek wins for the Lotto Belisol team during the Ardennes week.
Together with Gianni Meersman and Jelle Vanendert, Van den Broeck's one of the Belgian ProTeam's three leaders who's hoping he can strike in the finale and capture a first win at the Classics. "I've never won a Classic and a one-day race is always difficult. I have won only one race in nine years," Grand Tour specialist Van den Broeck said on Friday afternoon during the team's press conference in Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Some might suggest the Amstel Gold Race is an obstacle on the way to the Tour de France rather than an opportunity. The biggest Dutch cycling event, featuring narrow, twisting roads, speed bumps and other obstacles, is contested on a parcours which provides ample opportunity for crashes. "Hopefully there's no rain otherwise it's even more dangerous but if you want to avoid the risks then you can't race anywhere ahead of the Tour," Van den Broeck said. "This is a Classic. The atmosphere on the Cauberg is unbelievable. The course drains you mentally, rather than physically."
Clearly he isn't the Grand Tour rider who focuses solely on the three weeks in July. "There are more races in the year than the Tour. If I can win the Amstel then I will not say no. If you crash in the Tour like I did last year then you're left empty-handed," Van den Broeck said.
In the 2011 edition of the Tour de France the Belgian seemed perfectly on course for a great result until stage 9 when he abandoned the race after crashing into a ravine during a fast descent. "The crash made me realize how beautiful the Tour de France is. Every year it's becoming more important for me."
The crash is still taking its toll as he's not yet comfortable again on descents. It cost him a good result in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. "I was disappointed with my time trial there. It rained, it was slippery. I was a bit scared but in the Tour we'll not be going over a bike path," Van den Broeck said.
On the other hand his climbing ability was a positive at the Basque Country. "I'm climbing better. Last year I was distanced uphill whereas this year I followed swiftly; that boosts my morale. I prefer to enjoy good form early in the season. Otherwise you get into trouble to get ready in time for the Tour de France," Van den Broeck said.
The last few months the Belgian spent most of his time in Majorca where he owns a flat. It's a logical choice as the training conditions in Majorca are far superior to those in Belgium for a Grand Tour rider.
Regarding who he considers the men to watch during the Ardennes Classics, Van den Broeck first mentioned his former teammate and 2011 Ardennes week stalwart Philippe Gilbert, despite his dearth of results this season.
"I don't feel his legs so I can't judge on his form. If Gilbert attacks then we'll not be so stupid to let him go."
In addition to Gilbert, the Belgian referred to Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) as the man to beat during the Ardennes week. "In the Basque Country I saw that Rodriguez had the most punch in the finishes. Don't count out [Simon] Gerrans, though."