AG2R-La Mondiale head into the 'Flemish Week' of cobbled classics at Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem with a blanced squad of experience and youth. Belgian Stijn Vandenbergh headlines the squad with Sondre Holst Enger, Oliver Naesen and Alexis Gougeard providing added firepower to the team as Vandenbergh sits out Dwars door Vlaanderen.
"I feel very good about it, and even though I was a little sick at the start of the season, I am ready to get some good results," Vandenbergh said. "After Milan-Sanremo, I feel fit to come to the Flanderian classics with a lot of confidence and morale high. This week, I will only be racing E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. E3 has more climbs. It is similar to the Tour of Flanders in that respect. Gent-Wevelgem can be made very difficult by the weather."
Vandenbergh returned to AG2R-La Mondiale after stints with Katusha and Quick-Step where he made his name as a classics domestique while also claiming fourth places results at E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders. Of the cobbled classics, Vandenbergh is targeting the Tour of Flanders but first, is focused on a good showing at the WorldTour races
"For me, this is an important time of the season. In recent years I have gone to these races with Quick Step, a team for which these are among the most important events of the year," he said. "I live 15km from Oudenaarde, which is kind of the center of the Flanders region. I know every road, every climb by heart. Of course, my dream is to win the Tour of Flanders. I finished 4th in 2014. The AG2R La Mondiale team is strong and motivated.
"The legs are good, and if I am in the final this week, and I succeed in securing a place in the top-10, it will be a good sign for what follows."
In 2016, AG2R-La Mondiale's classics campaign was derailed by the heart ailment which would later force Johan Vansummeren into retirement. 12-months on, and the French team will field a robust and balanced roster for the 'Flemish Week'. For the classics, Naesen and Gougeard are both aggressive riders and capable of taking on leadership roles for the team. Enger meanwhile offers the team a fast finish with Dwars Door Vlaanderen best suited to his capabilities.
Off-season signings Nans Peters, Julien Dival, Rudy Barbier, have been selected for at least Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke in the team's new look classics squad. Gediminas Badonas, Nico Denz, and Hugo Houle round out the team for the first two races of the week. AG2R-La Mondiale will confirm its squad for Gent-Wevelgem ahead of Sunday's race.
AG2R-La Mondiale for Dwars door Vlaanderen: Oliver Naesen, Gediminas Bagdonas, Rudy Barbier, Nico Denz, Julien Duval, Sondre Holst Enger, Hugo Houle and Nans Peters
AG2R-La Mondiale for E3 Harelbeke: Stijn Vandenbergh, Oliver Naesen, Julien Duval, Alexis Gougeard, Hugo Houle, Nico Denz, Nans Peters and Gediminas Bagdonas.
AG2R-La Mondiale long list for Gent-Wevelgem: Gediminas Badonas, Rudy Barbier, Nico Denz, Julien Duval, Sondre Holst Enger, Alexis Gougeard, Hugo Houle, Oliver Naesen and Stijn Vandenbergh.
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