2014 Lotto Belisol team report card
WorldTour ranking: 15th (up 3 spots from 2013)
Win count: 30 (up two)
Top riders: Tim Wellens (25th), Tony Gallopin (35th), Jelle Vanendert (50th)
Before anyone says André Greipel is washed up in the sprints, let's consider that the German champion won 16 races this year, and that was over the course of a season interrupted by a shoulder injury, sustained in a Gent-Wevelgem crash, that required surgery to repair. He leads the peloton in the overall number of victories, even if Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff won more Grand Tour stages.
Even with his injury, Greipel carved out yet another consistent season, winning stages from the Tour Down Under until his season closing Sparkassen Münsterland Giro victory in October. Although few of those successes were head-to-head with the top sprinters, Greipel thrived on the chaos of the Tour de France's stage six to Reims, and continued his streak of winning at least one stage in every Tour since 2011.
Yet Lotto-Belisol's season highs were not as dependent on the gentle 'gorilla' as in past years: their Tour de France was made a success not only because of Greipel's stage win, but also due to that of its best new signing, Tony Gallopin. The Frenchman captured the hearts of the nation when he made the winning breakaway on stage 9 to Mulhouse and rode himself into the race's maillot jaune.
Seeing a French rider, especially one from a family with such deep ties in cycling - uncle Alain is a directeur sportif for Trek who was also a soigneur for Laurent Fignon - on the podium in yellow made for few dry eyes in the house, in particular from his then-fiancée Marion Rousse, who was at the Tour working as a pundit for Eurosport.
Photo: Tim De Waele
The celebration continued two days later when Gallopin, having lost the jersey after one day, claimed a cagey stage victory with a late attack into Oyonnax. In addition to his grand Tour performance, Gallopin also showed his promise this season with podium places in the Brabantse Pijl, the GP de Montréal and the GP de Wallonie as well as coming 10th overall in Paris-Nice.
The team's other Grand Tour success came from veteran Adam Hansen who, in his 10th straight Grand Tour, demonstrated his unmatched endurance by winning stage 19 in the Vuelta a España with a well-executed attack on a climb with four kilometers to go, holding off the sprinters by five full seconds.
Tim Wellens was another stand-out rider for Lotto-Belisol this season, grabbing the team's lone stage race overall victory in the Eneco Tour of Benelux, as well as a second place overall in the Ster ZLM Toer. The 23-year-old impressed earlier in the season by making a late-breakaway in the Giro d'Italia stage 6 to Montecassino sparked by Cadel Evans. The Belgian was defeated for the stage win by Michael Matthews, but showed his mettle. He was second again on a stage to Vittorio Veneto, after Bardiani's Stefano Pirazzi left the breakaway behind to win the stage. He closed his season with a fourth place in Il Lombardia, a new contract with Lotto-Belisol in hand and his name on the bookmakers' odds list for next year's Classics.
Photo: Tim De Waele
Other riders with success for Lotto this year included Jens Debusschere, who won the Belgian championship and a stage of the Tour de Wallonie, and took second overall in the Tour de l'Eurometropole, Greg Henderson with a stage of the Ster ZLM Toer, and newcomer Jonas Van Genechten with a stage in the Tour of Poland and wins in the Druivenkoers-Overijse and GP de Fourmies.
Lars Bak was second overall in the Tour of Denmark, Jürgen Roelandts third overall in Tour of Qatar and Jurgen Van Den Broeck showed some promise for the Tour de France with a third place overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné. but lost contact in the Vosges during the Tour and could only manage 13th overall. Van Den Broeck ended the season with a DNF at the Vuelta and doubts as to whether he would target Grand Tours again.
The team also had no manner of luck in the cobbled Classics, suffering crash after crash, in particular to Roelandts, second last year in the Tour of Flanders, who tumbled out of the race this year. Their spring was rescued by a fine second place in the Amstel Gold Race by Jelle Vanendert.
On paper, the team's 15th place overall in the WorldTour belies its performance, but many of the victories came at the HC ranks or below. However, they've kept their sponsors happy, signing on with Soudal as a co-title sponsor for 2015, and retained the vast majority of the team, clearly sticking with a proven formula.
Best signing: With Van Den Broeck's Grand Tour hopes in question, Lotto picked up Thomas De Gendt, who memorably won on the Stelvio stage of the 2012 Giro d'Italia and finished third overall that year, as its back-up GC hopeful. De Gendt hasn't been the same since the Vacansoleil team he was on stopped, but had a solid, if unremarkable, season with Omega Pharma-Quickstep.
Biggest loss: Lotto kept the majority of the team, losing only Frederik Willems to retirement and Van Genechten to IAM Cycling. Perhaps their biggest loss is in the transfer market where they took few risks.
Man to watch: After such strong 2014 seasons, it will be fun to see what Wellens and Gallopin can accomplish in 2015. Also interesting is new signing, young Belgian Tiesj Benoot. The 20-year-old was fourth in the U23 road race at Worlds, and third in the U23 Tour of Flanders. He has real promise for the future in the Classics, but will likely start as a support rider for Roelandts. Stig Broeckx, who rode 170km in the break in the Tour of Flanders, is another promising rider for the Classics.