More support for Naesen: Dewulf and Van Hoecke sign for AG2R

The building of a team around Oliver Naesen at AG2R La Mondiale continued on Wednesday with the announcement of the signings of Belgian Classics riders Stan Dewulf and Gijs Van Hoecke

The pair will reinforce the Classics core centred on Naesen, who earlier this year signed a new three-year contract at the French team, which recently welcomed Citroën as co-title sponsor for 2021.

"Stan is one of the greatest Belgian hopes for the Classics and signing him will further strengthen our ambitions in this area. He won Paris-Roubaix U23 in 2018, which proves his skills," said AG2R team manager Vincent Lavenu. 

"For Gijs, Oliver Naesen wanted a rider to protect him in strategic moments in the classics. Gijs is a perfect example of a rider who excels at that sort of job, and he is willing to give everything to protect his leader. He will be a hugely valuable teammate."

Dewulf leaves Lotto Soudal after coming through their development set-up, where he spent three years and won Paris-Roubaix before turning pro with the WorldTour outfit in 2019. The highly-rated 22-year-old had his first taste of the Classics in 2019, finishing 13th at Nokere Koerse and making his debut at the elite Paris-Roubaix, where he finished 79th.

"After five years with Lotto Soudal, I am ready to start a new stage in my career. I quickly got hooked by the team’s project and know I still have a lot to learn about the Classics," Dewulf said. 

"I think my temperament is similar to Oliver's. I'm here to do the best I can but keep my feet on the ground. I won Paris-Roubaix in the U23 category and that is the race that continues to make me dream. I really want to shine there. You either worship the race, or you hate it. I fall into the first category."

Van Hoecke is set to leave Van Avermaet's side but the Olympic champion, who is a close friend of Naesen's, has even been linked with a move to AG2R, with the future of CCC Team shrouded in uncertainty. Van Hoecke joined CCC in 2019 after two years at Jumbo-Visma and five years at Topsport Vlaanderen, where he rode alongside Naesen. 

"I know Oliver very well; we were almost neighbors at one time.  We raced together as juniors but also at Topsport. I am very happy to join him and his brother Lawrence and bring my experience in the Classics," he said. 

"AG2R La Mondiale is a team with a great and long history. And the arrival of a sponsor like Citroën next year is great news. I live on the Ronde Van Vlaanderen course, so that is the race that makes me dream. I don't think I could win it, but I would do anything to help one of the leaders win."

The signings represent the latest transfer activity for a team that looks increasingly geared around Naesen rather than Romain Bardet, who has been heavily linked with a move to Team Sunweb. 

Naesen was the first AG2R rider to receive a contract extension this year, signing a new three-year deal and insisting that support riders would follow. Dewulf and Van Hoecke join Oliver's brother, Lawrence Naesen, in a Belgian Classics quartet for 2021, with Frenchmen Tony Gallopin, Alexis Gougeard, and possibly Benoît Cosnefroy set to feature on the cobbles. The current Classics group includes Silvan Dillier, Stijn Vandenbergh, and Harry Tanfield, who are out of contract at the end of the year and haven't finalised future plans. 

2021 is set to see significant change for AG2R, as they welcome Citroën and say goodbye to Pierre Latour, who's off to Total Direct Energie, and likely also Bardet, who has taken them to two Tour de France podium finishes. As well as Naesen, the team have so far handed contract extensions to Cosnefroy, Alexis Vuillermoz, Larry Warbasse, Ben Gastauer, and Mikaël Chérel. 

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