Roger Kluge believes that Caleb Ewan and his lead-out train will be under greater pressure to win than they were at Mitchelton-Scott. The German followed Ewan to Lotto Soudal ahead of the 2019 season, with the aim of replacing outgoing sprinter Andre Greipel.
Ewan moved to Lotto Soudal in order to race the Tour de France, and build on his reputation as one of the fastest sprinters in the WorldTour. At Mitchelton, his opportunities were cut short, often due to the fact that the Australian team moved their focus towards their stage racing stars. At Lotto Soudal – a team that has historically worked for sprinters – there should be far less in-house competition when it comes to race programmes.
"It feels Belgian. It's fine though and we've had time to come together," Kluge told Cyclingnews at Lotto Soudal's recent training camp.
"We've had a week and we're training in separate groups depending on our race programmes. Last night we had a good evening, and were able to talk for a lot longer and the camp has been good. I can't understand everything so far but we're getting better. It's been a warm welcome."
Ewan has also brought Adam Blythe with him to Lotto Soudal, while a number of Greipel's lead-out train have disbanded to other teams. Kluge will keep his position in Ewan's lead out, with Blythe and Jasper De Buyst completing the final two slots. The camp in Mallorca was a chance for new teammates to ride on new equipment and socialise, and while training was a cornerstone of the schedule, Kluge believes that race experience will help them gel as a lead-out unit.
"For me the position is more or less the same. There's a bit more pressure here because previously we had the two goals of winning stages but we didn't have the full support. Here Caleb has that full support of five, six, seven riders. I'm still in the position and I'm the guy before the last two lead-out men," he told Cyclingnews.
"We want to get the most out the training, but it's hard to simulate a race in training. We're going to have to learn from race to race but that's the same for every lead out. You learn from the race, you analyse and then you talk and make sure it's better the next time."
The lead-out trains in professional cycling have evolved in the past 10 years. More teams are turning up with competitive squads and realistic chances of winning in bunch sprints. This has contributed to messier finales, while the days of one team stringing the bunch along for the final kilometres is all but over.
"It's changed a lot. Five years ago you had the sprinters battling behind the lead-out trains for position, but now the entire train is fighting to be in front and you can’t really control it anymore. Quick-Step is maybe one of the strongest teams, but even they’re not riding from 10 kilometres from the finish. Everyone is waiting for the right moment and the point to hit out."