Lotto Soudal will start next week's Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco with an ambitious squad to fulfil several ambitions. The team is looking for stage wins via the likes of Tim Wellens and impressing on the GC with Louis Vervaeke. Rafa Valls is also aiming to impress on home soil with a bid for the overall.
Several riders in the team will also use the Spanish WorldTour stage race as final preparation for the upcoming Ardennes Classics.
"We are going to the Vuelta al País Vasco with ambition. A stage win, a good result in the GC for Louis Vervaeke and Rafael Valls and aggressive racing are the goals," sports director Mario Aerts explained of the ambition. "Maxime Monfort and Sander Armée will support Louis and Rafael. Louis had to abandon the last stage of the Volta a Catalunya. That was very painful because he stood on a fifteenth place on the GC.
"He trained too much before the Volta a Catalunya and that took its toll in the tough edition. Louis has a week off so he can rest and fully recover for next week. We have to compete against some world class riders like Henao, Valverde and Contador. So we know it's going to be tough."
Wellens starts his season with two wins at the Challenge Mallorca in February and enjoyed further Spanish success with victory on the final stage of the Ruta del Sol. The Belgian will be aiming for another win Spain before turning his attention to the Ardennes.
"Tim Wellens and Jelle Vanendert will have an ideal preparation for the Walloon classics. They have the qualities to try something but that’s something we will decide after the first two stages. It all depends on how they feel," Aerts said.
With a course considered slightly easier than previous editions, Aerts added that he sees opportunities on almost every stage for his riders and is backing them in for success.
"Tosh Van der Sande and Sean De Bie are our main contenders for the first two stages because it will probably be a sprint. The competition in the sprint isn’t very big so we definitely have a chance," Aerts said. "There are six climbs in the third stage so the climbers will have their first chance. Stage four is mostly flat, but there’s a dangerous hill at around twenty kilometres from the finish. The fifth stage is the Queen Stage and will be crucial for the GC. The time trial on the last day is less difficult than last year but it can still affect the GC."
Stage 1 starts with a 153.5km day in the saddle from Pamplona – Sarriguren on Monday, April 3 and concludes April 8 with a 27.7km time trial from Eibar to Eibar.
Lotto Soudal for Vuelta al País Vasco: Sander Armée, Sean De Bie, Maxime Monfort, Rafael Valls, Tosh Van der Sande, Jelle Vanendert, Louis Vervaeke and Tim Wellens.