Belgian Gert Steegmans' 2009 season was forgettable in most respects: while he scored two wins for Katusha, his season came to an abrupt and premature end. It was a big disappointment for the 29-year-old as it had followed a successful year with Quick Step that included eight victories and one triumphant win in the Tour de France's final stage on the Champs-Élysées.
After a dispute with Katusha over its anti-doping charter, Steegmans was placed on non-active status by the team in June and was absent from the peloton for the second half the season. In January, all that will be forgotten as Steegmans lines up for the new RadioShack team in its first race at the Tour Down Under in Australia.
Cyclingnews spoke with RadioShack Directeur Sportif Dirk Demol about his fellow Belgian, who he's brought into the team as its main sprinter, and how Steegmans fits into the squad's overall goals.
"[The team] decided to be in the picture for the whole season, and to do that we needed a sprinter. Also, when we go to the Classics, we need more than one or two riders who can do well - we needed more. That's why we took Steegmans. He isn't just a sprinter, he can also do well in the Classics, same with Sébastien Rosseler.
"With [Gregory] Rast, [Tomas] Vaitkus and [Dmitriy] Muravyev we have five good riders for the Classics. I won't say we'll have a top favourite at the start of any Classic, but when you have a strong team you can go far."
The first order of business is to kick off the season strong at its first event, the Tour Down Under. Steegmans has already been named to the squad and Demol thinks he could net the team's first win.
"Our first goal is to have a stage win at the Tour Down Under and show ourselves, to make a good impression. Maybe Steegmans is one of the guys who can win a stage.
"He's strong - the fact that he did not do so many races this year means he's hungry now - he wants that competition and you can see it on the bike. He's trained well and you can see that he is motivated.
"I know Gert is physically strong, and I know sometimes the mental battle is difficult, but everything is set up and he's ready to go."
Demol also said the team was prepared to offer Steegmans a level of flexibility with his race schedule in order to maximise his chances of success.
"We cannot put too much pressure on his shoulders. I know in some teams there is pressure in every race, but here it will be different. There will be some races that are goals, but there will be others where we will say 'if we can take something we'll do it, but if not, it's okay'. That's the best way to work with Gert."
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