News shorts: Vanmarcke aims for cobbled Tour de France stage, 20 home riders in Grand Depart

Vanmarcke aiming for cobble stage

Although Sep Vanmarcke will be charged with helping LottoNL-Jumbo leaders Robert Gesink and Wilco Kelderman in the Tour de France, he may have a shot at his first Tour stage win when the race heads over the cobblestones on stage 4 to Cambrai.

"I hope to be spared from bad luck and count on bad weather," he said in a pre-race press conference.

The marathon 223km stage traverses seven sectors of pavé, six of which come in the last 50km, making it a day well-suited to Classics specialists like Vanmarcke. "It is not a mini-Paris-Roubaix, but it is difficult enough to make a good fight," he said.

"I may have my own chance, but that does not mean I get the kind of support from my teammates like I do in the spring. They will have to help the leaders."

Vanmarcke has done his homework in advance of the Tour, covering the sectors several times and capturing the course on video.

"By Tuesday, I will know where every stone is. This stage will have no secrets for me."

Dutch field most riders in Tour de France since 1989

This year’s Tour de France start in the Netherlands has boosted enthusiasm for the race among Dutch fans and riders alike, with the host country boasting more riders in the peloton than any year since 1989.

Twenty Dutch riders will take the start in Saturday in Utrecht, with Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin a favourite to win the prologue and wear the first yellow jersey of the race.

Only France has more starters than the host country of the Grand Départ, with 41. The history of Dutch cyclists at the Tour goes as far back as 1936, with Theo Middelkamp being the first Dutch stage winner that same year, and the last one, Lars Boom, having ended a nine-year drought in 2014 during stage 5 to Arenberg.

Eighteen different Dutch riders have worn the yellow jersey since Wim van Est took it in 1951. The last one was Erik Breukink in 1989.

BMC promotes Vliegen from development team to WorldTour squad

BMC Racing announced on Wednesday that they have promoted 21-year-old Belgian Loïc Vliegen from the development squad to the WorldTour team.

Team general Manager Jim Ochowicz said Vliegen will be able to contribute immediately, especially because of injuries on several BMC riders.

"This is exciting for us, having advanced another fine athlete from our BMC Development Team to the pro team," Ochowicz said. "We have high hopes for Loïc's future with our team."

Vliegen is the third rider to move from BMC’s development team to the professional squad, following in the footsteps of Silvan Dillier and Stefan Küng. Dillier recently won the Swiss national time trial championship while Küng rode to a pair of solo wins before a crash at the Giro d'Italia sidelined him.

Vliegen has won four races this year, including victories at Flèche Ardennaise and stage wins at the Tour de Bretagne, Course de la Paix U23 and the Tour des Pays de Savoie. He was also runner-up overall at the Tour de Bretagne and Course de la Paix U23.

Vliegen previously rode as a trainee for BMC Racing and and finished eighth overall at the 2014 Arctic Race of Norway.

"I know how the level is for some races, but I have not yet raced on the WorldTour," he said. "I am excited to learn how about this level and I hope to help our leader in whatever race I am doing."

Specific details and terms of Vliegen's contract were not revealed, per BMC Racing Team policy.

Wellens cleared in case of ozone-doping doctor

Now-retired cyclo-cross star Bart Wellens has been cleared of wrongdoing in the investigation into physician Chris Mertens, who was accused of doping riders with banned ozone treatments.

Wellens was accused of receiving ozone therapy in January 2011, prior to the Belgian 'cross championships and the world championships. It is the same case in which BMC's Greg Van Avermaet and Wellens' teammate Tom Meeusen were accused of receiving similar treatments. Both were cleared.

Wellens retired at the end of the 'cross season.

The case of U23 rider Laurens Sweeck is still pending.

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