Belkin Pro Cycling travels to France for the first WorldTour stage race in Europe this season, Paris-Nice, full of confidence from their early season performances. Sports Director Merijn Zeeman is hoping the team can continue the good run the team displayed on the opening classics weekend where Moreno Hofland and Sep Vanmarcke appeared on the podium at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
"The Omloop [Het Nieuwsblad] and Kuurne [Brussels]Kuurne] were a very pleasant confirmation for us," said Zeeman. "First of all, it was good to see that the men are in a top condition. And besides that, last weekend was the first time this season that we really wanted to be at our best. We worked hard to make the riders into a real team and it was great to see that the men fought the battle together. I really enjoyed it."
As a prestigious race, Paris-Nice is also an early-season target for big teams such as Team Sky who will be riding in support of Richie Porte who is looking to defend his title from last year. Zeeman is under no illusions that it will be a tough week of racing. "But if we ride as a team, then I'm sure that our current form allows us to get in the mix for a good GC and stage victories," Zeeman said.
Leading the team’s overall ambitions is 22-year-old Wilco Kelderman who recently placed fifth on gc at the Volta ao Algarve. Kelderman had a breakthrough 2013 as he rode his first grand tour placing 17th at the Giro d’Italia and also claimed his the overall victory at the Danmark Rundt and he is eager to pin a number on his back again.
"It was really nice what they did. I hope to be good in Paris-Nice as well. I'm aiming for a top ten spot in the overall. We'll have a strong team at the start and hopefully we can take a stage victory as well," Kelderman said.
"Last weekend confirmed what we already knew: if you race like a team, it will bring you results."
Hofland is the designated sprinter for the race and with a stage win already under his belt in 2014 , Zeeman explained the level of expectation upon the 22-year-old has been reduced due to his good start to the year.
"Paris-Nice is a versatile race," said Zeeman. "We'll see nervous finals, dangerous downhills, strong winds and demanding climbs. For talents as Moreno Hofland and Wilco Kelderman, it will be a good learning experience.
"We'll give them the opportunity to go for their chances, but we're not going to put pressure on them. As a team we're going to help Moreno and Wilco. They will have supportive roles, on the other hand they'll get their chances."
Belkin's Paris-Nice squad: Jetse Bol, Lars Boom, Jos van Emden, Jonathan Hivert, Moreno Hofland, Wilco Kelderman, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Maarten Wynants.