2021 Team Preview: Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert
Belgian team join the WorldTour but do they have the quality to cope at the highest level?
Formerly registered as Circus-Wanty Gobert, the team took over the WorldTour license of Continuum Sports, the group behind CCC Team, and so move into the top-tier of the sport for the very first time in 2021.
The Belgian team, which will race as Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert this season, have attempted to build a roster capable of competing across the Grand Tours and the rest of the calendar and, while they have added experience in certain areas, they look set to struggle against stronger opposition in the biggest races.
Manager: Jean-François Bourlart
Squad size: 29
Average age: 27.8
How they fared in 2020
World ranking: N/A
The team picked up four wins in 2020, Xandro Meurisse - who's off to Alpecin-Fenix - winning a stage and the overall at the Vuelta a Murcia, Loic Vliegen winning the Tour du Doubs, and Danny van Poppel claiming Gooikse Pijl.
There were also a number of encouraging top-fives from the likes of Aimé de Gendt and Andrea Pasqualon. However, after three years at the Tour de France, the team didn't receive an invite in 2020 and also didn't take part in the biggest race or any other Grand Tour.
Danny Van Poppel: It feels as though the Dutch sprinter has been around for years but the former Vuelta a España stage winner is still 27 and, generally speaking, still in his prime.
He will lead the line for the team when it comes to sprints and an improved race calendar will provide the former Sky and Trek rider with the opportunity to race Grand Tours for the first time since 2018. In truth, Van Poppel could be better-served targeting smaller races, where he can use his experience and speed to pick off wins and bolster the team’s consistency.
The team have a decent leadout train and if Van Poppel can chip in with half a dozen wins during the season, his campaign will be deemed a major success. A lot rests on his shoulders, though, because he represents their best option when it comes to volume of wins. He hasn’t won more than two races in a year since 2018 and in any other WorldTour team he’d be considered the plan B for sprints.
Jan Hirt: Probably the best rider to be kept on from the CCC line-up, Hirt had an underwhelming 2020 but his results during the previous year – with fifth in the Tour de Suisse his best return – suggested that he could be a reliable outlet in week-long stage races. He hasn't been able to kick on since finishing 12th at the Giro in 2017, which is somewhat disappointing given the chances he had last year, at least.
Taco van der Hoorn: After a notable 2018 at ProTeam level, Van der Hoorn found his chances few and far between at Jumbo-Visma. While his new team are, technically speaking, on the same UCI level as Jumbo, the Dutch rider will have far more chances to shine and greater freedom and support when it comes to targeting specific races. This move could be just what he needs to get his career moving in the right direction again.
Louis Meintjes: The South African’s career flat-lined after he returned to Dimension Data/NTT but, at 28, there’s still hope and time for the former stage racing talent to resurrect his career.
A few years ago he was seen as a consistent top 10 rider in the Grand Tours and if the team can bring Meintjes back to anywhere near that level it will represent success. With a one-year deal, it’s quite conceivable that this is his final chance to turn things around.
Rein Taaramae: At 33, the Estonian’s best years are behind him but he arrives at the team with a huge amount of experience. That might not directly translate into wins but his presence on the team bus and in the peloton will bring a sense of calm to some of the younger and less experienced riders on the team, many of whom haven’t raced consistently at WorldTour level.
With a stretched team, Taaramae is also the sort of rider that directors can chuck into almost any scenario – possibly back-to-back Grand Tours this year – and he’ll perform his duties without fuss or complaint. Again, that might not directly lead to success for the team but it’s a priceless quality for a team of underdogs who will find themselves treading water at times.
Jan Bakelants: It seems as though the former Tour de France maillot jaune has been clinging onto his professional career since his terrible crash at Il Lombardia and, at 34, these are likely to be the last two years of his time as a rider. That said, he’s another rider who adds steel and experience. In week-long stages he has the potential to run consistent results and, on a few occasions, he’s raced two Grand Tours in a single season. He hasn’t won a race for some time but placings in WorldTour events would be a good return at this point.
While this team have some quite obvious limitations in terms of roster and the level of competition, they’re not complete pushovers, either. There’s some genuine steel and grit within the team and, although they’re unlikely to make waves in major WorldTour races and the Monuments, they have enough depth to chip away under the surface, pick up wins here and there, and consistently throw riders up the road.
They lack glamour but if they can squeeze the last drops out of Meintjes’ tank they could have pulled off one of the biggest coups in the transfer market. It’s a long shot, granted, but every now and then these things happen.
They’ve bought their way into the WorldTour with a roster that simply doesn’t have the quality to compete with most of their rivals.
They don’t have a star sprinter, a stage racer who can guarantee consistent results, or a wave of up-and-coming talents that truly stand out, so it’s hard to get excited about their chances at this point. They’ve strengthened their management, which will certainly help, but it’s hard to see where the wins are going to come from.
They’re the weakest team in the WorldTour - by some distance in fact - and it’s somewhat strange that they weren’t able to attract higher quality riders in the off-season, especially given so many were facing desperate futures even by November.
On the flip side, they’ve got experience in their line-up and, with only around a dozen riders on the roster for 2022, there’s ample room to use this season as a transitional year before looking to build on their foundations.
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.