Lotto Soudal have handed contract extensions to Belgian trio Tosh Van der Sande, Rémy Mertz, and Enzo Wouters. Van der Sande and Mertz have signed new two-year deals, while Wouters has signed a new one-year deal.
All three riders turned pro with Lotto Soudal, Van der Sande and Wouters having come through the team's U23 development squad.
Van der Sande, 27, began his pro career in 2012 and has played a versatile role. He has since won one race - a stage of the 2016 Tour de l'Ain - but has had a few near misses, and has also been called upon to work in the lead-out trains or for his team leaders in the hillier races.
“It was not a difficult decision to sign a two-year contract extension. I was eager to stay at Lotto Soudal and it’s always nice to know if the interest turns out to be mutual," said Van der Sande. "I feel really good within the team, where I have been a part of since 2012. As a Belgian rider in an almost completely Belgian team, I feel at ease. I guess that everybody needs a change now and then, but I realised pretty fast that Lotto Soudal is the right place for me.
“I am very satisfied with my current role within the team. I enjoy helping the leaders during the finale of big races. In the somewhat smaller races, I am granted the freedom to go for a nice result myself. Of course, I would like to take another victory in the near future. It has already been two years since I was able to celebrate a win."
Van der Sande has never ridden the Tour de France but will take aim at the Vuelta a España again this year. "The ideal scenario for that would be a reduced bunch sprint or a breakaway that goes till the finish," he said. "But the kind of race doesn’t really matter to me, winning is always welcome."
Mertz, 23, turned pro with Lotto Soudal last year and now sees another two years added to his contract. He had offers from other teams but felt the Belgian team was the best place to continue his development at this early stage in his career.
"When I got the chance to sign for an extra two years with a WorldTour team, I didn’t hesitate. I received a couple of other offers, but I really wanted to stay because I feel good within the team. Lotto Soudal supports me well in my development as a rider, so my contract extension is just a natural consequence of the past two years," Mertz said.
“In the years to come, I want to fully commit myself to the team and work for our leaders, like I did before. Of course, I hope to obtain my own results one day, but the most important thing now is that the team is satisfied with the work I do. At the moment, I don’t quite know in which races I would like to go for a result myself, it depends a bit on the progress I will make. Some guys immediately obtain results in their first years as a pro, but unfortunately that doesn’t apply to me. In the future, I want to show myself during the tough and selective races. I will still have to improve a lot, but I think that I am well on my way. I will do everything to become stronger and then we’ll see."
Like Mertz, Wouters turned pro with Lotto last year and is a rider who has his eye on the sprint-friendly semi-classics. The 22-year-old will remain with the team until the end of next season.
"When I got the chance to sign for another year, I didn’t hesitate a second," he said. I haven’t spoken to other teams yet because I just really preferred to stay. After two years at the U23 team and almost two years at the pros, I feel at home at Lotto Soudal.
"Everything I did so far for the team has made me a stronger, as well as a smarter, rider. I have already learned a lot from the big guys. It’s common sense to work for the team if there are better riders at the start. In the future, I hope to get my own chance during the races which suit me well like Nokere Koerse, Handzame Classic and Dwars door West-Vlaanderen. Due to illness during the spring Classics, I didn’t get those opportunities yet. I hope to appear healthy at the start of those Classics next year and go for a nice result myself now and then."
The Lotto Soudal team have also handed contract extensions to Thomas De Gendt and Tim Wellens this year. The big change comes in the sprint line, with André Greipel departing on bad terms after eight seasons and Caleb Ewan coming in from Mitchelton-Scott. Marcel Sieberg has left for Bahrain-Merida and Jens Debusschere has gone to Katusha-Alpecin, while the team have also brought in neo-pro Gerben Thijssen.
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