By Gregor Brown in Gent, Belgium
Belgium's two ProTour teams have a fierce rivalry, if not in the minds of the riders themselves, certainly in the hearts of the Belgian fans and press. So far this year, the Quick Step faithful have been able to gloat, and Silence-Lotto has had to withstand scathing criticism for winning just one race so far this season. The team's manager Marc Sergeant sent a reminder out to the doubters that the Classics are not yet over. He is hopeful the big win will come with Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.
"Of course there is pressure, this is Belgium, we are a Belgian team. We are supposed to be very good in these races," he said to Cyclingnews Thursday in Gent, Belgium. "One win can change a lot. It is not over, Paris-Roubaix is still to come."
Silence-Lotto's season started off slowly without any wins until March when Cadel Evans won the final stage in the Coppi e Bartali. The team is historically a Classics team with its roots firmly in Belgium, but this year's campaign has been lack-lustre despite the third place by Philippe Gilbert in Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Unlike rival team Quick Step, Silence-Lotto spreads its budget to build for two specific goals: the Classics and the Tour de France. It has riders like Leif Hoste, Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet for the one-day races and Evans and Thomas Dekker for the Grand Tours.
"We try to have two teams, but it is not easy because Cadel is quite an expensive rider. We are happy with this setup, in the Tour we have a lot of publicity but if you don't win in these races [the Classics], everyone gets nervous."
Hoste proved his form is on target with aggressive riding in Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen. He helped form a decisive escape ahead of the feared Koppenberg climb, despite a strong Quick Step presence. If he continues to progress he will be in position to better last year's sixth place this Sunday in Paris-Roubaix.
"We have never won such a big race, we were often second with Leif, Cadel was second in Flèche Wallonne... It would be something special to finally win one of those big races," said Sergeant.
Paris-Roubaix is one of the most demanding one-day races due to its parcours that stretches out over the cobbled roads of northern France. Hoste will battle his rivals over 259 kilometres, nearly 55 of which are pavé.