After a major upheaval in his squad, with a third of the roster changing, Marc Sergeant is confident that his Lotto-Belisol can improve on their 2013 season, in which they won 28 races.
To Sergeant's credit, the team have kept the core of their most talented riders with Andre Greipel and a number of his key leadout men signing contract extensions. Greipel was responsible for nearly half the team's wins last year (13 of 28) and Sergeant has moved to address the balance by dipping into the transfer market. He turned down the chance of signing the Vuelta a Espana winner, instead going after Maxime Monfort and Tony Gallopin.
Neither the Belgian or the Frenchman have been prolific winners - both having ridden in the services of other riders in the past, but Sergeant believes that both new signings will bolster the team.
"We've changed a lot. We have nine new riders and 10 left, and that's a third of the team that has changed," he told Cyclingnews.
"Our goal was to keep the strength of the team but also to reinforce the team on different levels. So if you look at the Classics, we've brought in Gallopin and for the Grand Tours, we've brought in Monfort. We've done some nice shopping."
Gallopin has shown flashes of class in the last few seasons and picked up his first major win at San Sebastian this year, becoming the first winner of the race since Laurent Jalabert's back-to-back wins in 2001 and 2002.
"We signed him before that win," the Lotto boss quickly added.
"It was a good deal, but I don't think there are any regrets from him. He had some good offers even before that win and he was on the market. I took an opportunity to give more responsibility on our team, and he was on the same page. From there we had a common goal and while of course you can't sign riders before August, let's just say that we had an agreement, not written, but earlier."
Gallopin has not just been signed for his results, Belisol bring a French angle to the team and there are few riders from Gallopin's neck of the woods who can consistently compete on the one day stage. Thomas Voeckler is a leader in his own right and is tied to Europcar, while Sergeant denies that he ever approached IAM Cycling bound Sylvain Chavanel.
Gallopin will therefore team up with with Jurgen Roelandts to form one of the most potentially dynamic and aggressive double line ups in the spring Classics. Roelandts made the podium in last year's Tour of Flanders after a gutsy ride but his Classics campaign was blighted by bad luck, and moment of isolation, factors that Sergeant will be soothed by the arrival of Gallopin.
"This year there were moments when Roelandts was left alone too many times. He was ready this year, but he's going up against guys like [Peter] Sagan and [Fabian] Cancellara, who are top class. If those guys are 100 percent fit, then it's immensely hard to beat them. To be honest Roelandts was close on a few occasions. Look at San Remo. He was 10 meters off that lead group, but then he crashed. He could have been on the podium that day. Then you go to Harelbeke. He was in the lead group but flats on the second to last climb. Who knows what he could have done then. He was good in Flanders, but he was up against Cancellar and Sagan. What was encouraging was that he took the initiative. He attacked when so many riders waited and waited. He finished third.
"Then at Gent Welvegem, he has another flat, but he's also hit by a car. Being honest, Sagan was very strong that day but again he could have been a top placer that day, maybe on the podium again. He has the potential to be a rider who can compete consistently in the finals of the major races. I'm not saying he can ride Cancellara off his wheel in Flanders, but he's certainly a challenge. That I'm sure of."
"Then you have Gallopin next to him. So let's say Roelandts has a flat, this year that's the end for Lotto in the race. Next year we have two guys and we hope to not have the bad luck. We can have two leaders in the spring and I've said to to Gallopin that he can have the programme that Gilbert had, to be good from San Remo to Liege, while skipping Roubaix."
The signing of Monfort mark Sergeant's attempt to provide cover for Jurgen van den Broeck who has a patchy relationship with the Tour having crashed out twice but finished fourth on two occasions as well. Monfort, a strong all-rounder who lacks a fast finished and a killer edge in any discipline has ridden for Cofidis and Leopard and taken
Monfort will not be heading for the Tour as a foil for Van den Broeck in 2014 though; instead the Belgian has been tasked with leading Lotto in the Vuelta or the Giro d'Italia.
"I'm hoping he can move up. He's 30, he's experienced and he has qualities for the climbs and in the time trials. The first chat I had with him, he thought I was hiring him for the Tour de France. I had other plans and told him he could lead the team at the Giro or the Tour. It took him maybe 15 or 20 minutes to realise he was out of the Tour, and he wasn't used to that. That wasn't easy for him to take, but then he said he liked the idea."
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