Lotto Soudal CEO John Lelangue insists that his team will continue to race aggressively without focussing too much on UCI points in 2022, despite the team languishing in the danger zone of relegation from the WorldTour in 2023.
As Cyclingnews reported this week, there are will be only 18 spots for the WorldTour starting in 2023 and the UCI is expected to draw the line below the top teams in the points rankings from 2020 through 2022. Lotto Soudal is currently 20th and close behind Cofidis, Intermarché-Wanty Gobert and Israel-Premier Tech.
They are also facing a challenge from aspiring teams Arkéa-Samsic, TotalEnergies and Uno-X, but Lelangue is not worrying about their ranking, nor is he concerned that Soudal is set to move across to Patrick Lefevere's QuickStep team next year.
"The fact that we knew early that Soudal is leaving gives us an advantage," Lelangue says according to Wielerflits.nl (opens in new tab). "This provides opportunities for both us and any partners. There are now several contacts and they are positive. A lot of companies want to identify with our team and have the same values. Our squad is attractive enough. In addition, with the National Lottery, we have a stable main sponsor, with a long history in cycling. But if you ask if a signature has already been made? No, not yet today. We still have time."
Lelangue admitted that 2021 did not go their way very often. The team finished 18th in the World Rankings, behind Arkéa-Samsic, and won 12 races.
"Okay, last year was a bad year," Lelangue said but pointed breakthrough performance of Florian Vermeersch in Paris-Roubaix and Critérium du Dauphiné stage win by Brent van Moer.
"With Caleb Ewan in Milan-San Remo (second) and Florian Vermeersch in Paris-Roubaix, we achieved two podium places in Monuments. And we took twelve wins, eight of which were in the WorldTour."
Lotto Soudal have a history of getting into breakaways, with riders like Thomas De Gendt and Tim Wellens frequently on the attack. A team on the cusp of losing their place in the WorldTour could be excused for racing more conservatively but that isn't in Lelangue's plan.
"I enjoyed our attacking racing style but you don't get UCI points with that. That system is not in favour of our way of racing. However, that is our DNA. I don't want to change that."
Lelangue also shot down rumours that the team's best-ranked rider in 2021, Caleb Ewan, might be sent to smaller races to ensure he can earn enough points for the team to keep its top-tier status - winning a Pro Series one-day race is worth more than a Tour de France stage.
"I am confident that we will finish in the top eighteen. Without changing Caleb's program," Lelangue said. "He only adds Gent-Wevelgem and De Panne compared to last year. Those are not smaller races. But we're going to get our points. Caleb's sprint train has been beefed up. Our young people are coming up. I also expect something from (neo-pro) Arnaud De Lie. Victor [Campenaerts] has also been added. We will continue to race offensively. Without focusing too much on those points. Those will come naturally."
He expects that Philippe Gilbert, whose top point-scoring result in 2021 was fifth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, will deliver and help mentor younger riders, too.
"[Gilbert] will still deliver results, there is no doubt about that. But he is also important for the team as a mentor, a born leader. When he speaks, everyone listens." But whether he will race the Tour de France remains to be seen. "He is in the pre-selection of ten, but Phil will not claim that spot if his condition is not in order. He is that fair."
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