The Lotto Soudal team presented its 2017 squad at the Brusselse Paleis on Tuesday, and team manager Marc Sergeant recalled the highs and lows of this year's campaign, calling the nearly fatal crash of Stig Broeckx the absolute low point.
"The fall of Stig of course, was the absolute nadir," Sergeant said. He remains a part of our family forever. Hopefully, it will be possible to converse with him soon."
Broeckx suffered a severe head injury in a crash that was sparked when two motorcycles collided and swerved into the peloton during the Baloise Belgium Tour. He was in a coma for several months, and has only recently been deemed to be out of it.
Sergeant also reflected on the team's high points, saying they had some fantastic races in 2016. "With four stage victories in the Giro, including three in a row, and two stunning victories in the Tour de France it was a successful year, but the decline was sometimes very deep. We have had long periods without victories - that must not happen. A new year like 2015, with 40 victories, would be fantastic."
Lotto Soudal won three stages in the Giro with André Greipel and one with Tim Wellens, then Thomas De Gendt and Greipel each won stages in the Tour.
The team's clothing changed little in terms of design, and the majority of the roster remains the same. Neo-pros Remy Mertz, Enzo Wouters and James Callum Shaw are new to the team together with Nikolas Maes (Etixx - Quick-Step) and Dutchman Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo). The team lost lead-out man Greg Henderson to United Healthcare, Pim Ligthart (Roompot), and Gert Dockx to retirement.
"A lot of guys had a contract and so there are few newcomers," said Sergeant. "Nikolas Maes brings some experience, especially in the Spring Classics. Moreno Hofland will hope to take revenge after a disappointing season, and he is also still young."
Among the returnees are the heart of squad's Classics team. Sergeant laid out the schedule for the top riders' build up to the Monuments:
"Tim Wellens will participate for the first time ever in Strade Bianche (4 March) and Tirreno-Adriatico (8 – 14 March). Tony Gallopin will ride Paris-Nice (5 – 12 February), together with, among others, André Greipel.
"Tony will be focusing more on the cobbled races next season and will skip Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Sean De Bie will race the Ardennes Classics. Tiesj Benoot will get a race programme similar to this year and he will get Nikolas Maes by his side. Moreno Hofland will ride a mix of Flemish races and races in which he can show his fast legs."
In addition to the men's team, the women's squad was also presented. Lotte Kopecky, one of the returning riders, had a string of good results this year including best young rider and fourth overall in the Lotto Belgium Tour.
"Last year was my first year with Lotto Soudal and I feel that I have since I made a big step forward," said Kopecky. "I am going to continue with the combination of road and track in 2017. The Tour of Flanders and the World Championships on the track, both in April, are my first two goals."