Wanty-Groupe Gobert confirm nine debutants for maiden Tour de France

Belgian Pro-Continental team with sprint focus in July

Belgian Pro-Continental team Wanty-Groupe Gobert makes its Tour de France debut this week, naming a squad of nine with no previous experience of the French Grand Tour. The wild card team had already announced seven riders and confirmed its squad with the addition of Andrea Pasqualon and Dion Smith.

Of the nine riders, there is limited Grand Tour experience with Yoann Offredo, Thomas Degand and Guillaume van Keirsbulck having all ridden one three-week race in their career to date.

"We had to choose between our three fastest riders (Dion, Kenny and Andrea). We choose for Andrea and Dion because of their ability to survive the climbs better," said general manager Jean-François Bourlart. "There are a lot of stages suited for puncheurs and climbers this Tour. That was decisive. Kévin Van Melsen is our second reserve. He is again on a high level and is able to join the long breakaways."

When announcing its first seven riders for the Tour de France, which starts July with a time trial in Dusseldorf, the team manager Hilaire Van der Schueren announced its numerous ambitions. Van der Schueren added in a team release that when selecting the final two riders to accomplish its ambitious, there were numerous riders in consideration.

"It wasn't an easy choice. Many candidates were qualified. Unfortunately Xandro Meurisse still suffers too much from pain in the ribs after his crash in Ster ZLM Toer," Van der Schueren saud. "Jérome Baugnies also is in good shape, but we give him some rest to save himself for the one day races in July and August. These races always suit him."

While the additions of Pasqualon and Smith strengthen its sprint capabilities, Frenchman Guillaume Martin is a rider to watch in the mountains and the battle for the white jersey on his Tour debut. The 24-year-old was second overall at the Tour of Austria last July and will be hoping to find similar form once again during the summer. 

Wanty-Groupe Gobert for the 2017 Tour de France: Frederik Backaert (Bel), Thomas Degand (Bel), Guillaume Martin (Fra), Marco Minnaard (Ned), Yoann Offredo (Fra), Andrea Pasqualon (Ita), Dion Smith (NZl), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) and Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel).

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