By Shane Stokes
Former top Tour de France sprinter and Classics hardman Eric Vanderaerden has been confirmed as joining the DFL-Cyclingnews.com team for 2007 as director sportif.
The Belgian had a glittering pro career, taking 138 victories between 1983 and 1996. These included five stage wins plus one Maillot Vert in the Tour de France, stage victories in races such as the Vuelta España, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Holland, as well as big one day successes in Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Gent Wevelgem and the Belgian road race championships.
Vanderaerden feels that this background will be invaluable as regards his new role as directeur sportif, taking over from fellow Belgian - and former multiple TdF stage winner, Daniel Willems. "I think my main impact will be due to my experience as a rider," he told Cyclingnews on Wednesday. "I did the Tour de France 9 times, finishing it on 7 occasions, so I think I have enough experience to work with the younger guys."
The 44 year old retired from racing in 1996. Following a break from the sport and then a couple of years working with an amateur team, he spent two seasons as coach/directeur to the Mapei – Quickstep squad, staying with them until the team stopped. He currently has a directeur sportif role this year with the Yawadoo - Colba – ABM setup, but says he is excited about his new opportunity.
"The goal was that I wanted to work in a big ProTour team or else with a developing squad. The Cyclingnews team wants to move to a higher level so that is a motivation for me," he stated. "Gilbert De Weerdt contacted me about the position, having already done that a year or two ago. I have decided that the time is right now."
"I will start next season as directeur sportif, but this year I will do some work with the management, relating to the lineup for 2007. Most of the riders currently with the team will stay and we will also look at the possibility of taking on some more Belgian guys. Gilbert De Weerdt is on holiday now but when he comes back, we will sit down for a couple of hours and make a list of the riders we want. I will then talk to them and see if we can get an agreement."
Vanderaerden may also accompany the team to the Jayco Herald Sun Tour this autumn.
The DFL – Cyclingnews.com squad has had some good results this season, with probably the most significant being Russell Downing's victory in the Triptyque Ardennais. Past winners included Danilo Di Luca and Ivan Basso. Downing's stage win in the Tour de Beauce is also a highlight, as are the team's four Belgian Pro Kermesse wins and third place in the Tour of Chong Ming Island. They are due to line out in the 2.HC Tour of Qinghai Lake later this week.
Managing Director Nick Collins has big plans for the future. "I regard this year as a trial run, developing a ‘team template' for the years to come in which I expect the team to step up a level to Pro Continental status," he said. "Cycling already has a high profile on mainland Europe and I believe that there remains huge opportunity within the UK.
"The eventual inclusion of a UK registered team within the Pro Tour ranks would open new and exciting marketing opportunities not only to UK sponsors but also to the UCI and organisers of the three Grand Tours. How much more value could be added to their brand with the UK market fully exposed? There are huge opportunities as yet untapped."