Scheldeprijs was supposed to be a chance for Lotto Soudal to get their Classics campaign back on track. Jürgen Roelandts sealed the team a fourth place, but it was only after their primary hope Andre Greipel saw his race ended by a broken wheel.
Greipel was caught up in a crash with four kilometres to go after a touch of wheels on the right-hand side of the bunch sparked a ripple effect the whole way across the road. The German did not go down, by some miracle, but his back wheel was struck in the incident, and there was no way for him to get a new one and get back for the sprint finale. Having already worked to bring his team leader into the finish, Roelandts had to switch gears and battle it with the pure sprinters of Marcel Kittel, Elia Viviani and Nacer Bouhanni.
"We still asked if [Greipel] could do the sprint, but his wheel was broken. We still tried to do the sprint for me, but it's hard to change the head quickly to go for your own sprint but the guys still did an amazing job. I came on Kittel's wheel but he had so much power and nobody could get past him," Roelandts told Cyclingnews after catching his breath at the finish.
"I already did some turns in the wind for Andre, so I did not have the full freshness to sprint. It was just a matter of staying in the slipstream, and I'm not a real sprinter like Kittel and Bouhanni."
The whole incident pretty much sums up Lotto Soudal's Classics campaign, which has not really got off the mark this spring. The team has missed the key splits in several of the big Classics and Jasper de Buyst's third place in Ronde van Drenthe is the only thing they've had to celebrate in recent weeks.
Greipel has delivered the team three victories this season, including one at Paris-Nice last month, and he was one of only two to finish last weekend's Tour of Flanders for the team, alongside Tony Gallopin. He admits, however, that the team has not been good enough this spring.
"We have got quite a difficult period with the team. We've not been that successful in the last races, especially here on the Belgian corridor. We can just try to do our best and try to talk with our legs," he told Cyclingnews. "We had goals that we set before the season, and if you finish Flanders with two guys, then it's not good enough.
"We have to be confident. We don't change from one day to the other. I think that we have a team with good characteristics for the Classics, so that is what we're trying to bring back into our minds."
There are some positives that Lotto Soudal can take out of their performance at Scheldeprijs, namely that they were able to contest the finish even after losing their key rider. There is still one more opportunity for the Belgian squad with Paris-Roubaix this Sunday and they will have to hope for smoother running on the French cobbles.
"It has been a rough couple of weeks," said Roelandts. "When everybody is just a few per cent less we don't have immediately a good result with one guy, and then you're a bit more in the back, and then you are in the crashes or held behind the crashes. More problems come with being a few percentages less. That's just the way it is now.
"For me, it was a good result today after the last few weeks. I have been having some problems with sinusitis, and I think when you have something at the big Classics and you're just on 95 per cent it's not enough. It's already hard at 100 per cent, and I will be taking good care of myself ahead of Roubaix and let's hope that we can get a good result with one of us."
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