In the absence of Tom Boonen, the Belgian Quick Step team had to switch its mindset drastically just a few days before the start of the Tour de France. The Belgian sprinter has been forced to skip cycling's most prestigious Grand Tour due to injury, and this meant the squad will adopt a completely different strategy for the event.
"Without Tom, it is quite different," Carlos Barredo instantly admitted at the team's press conference in Rotterdam on Thursday afternoon. "We will have a different approach in the race, as it will all be about attacking instead of preparing a sprint. Especially in the first week, and in the stages travelling through Belgium, which are very important to us."
Terms like "baroudeur" and "puncheur" arent't easy to tranlsate into English, but they essentially designate riders able to set out on a mid-race or late breakaway and hold a chasing bunch off until the finish. Barredo, just like Sylvain Chavanel, Maarten Wynants and Kevin De Weert, are such powerful riders, whose preferred battlegrounds are the Classics roads in Belgium and Northern France that will make up the first days of this year's Tour.
"This first week will even more nervous than normally, as we start in the Netherlands, where there can be lots of wind," Chavanel told Cyclingnews. "Wind echelons are bound to split the race. Then, we'll have the cobblestones, where we risk massive pile-ups, too. The first week will just be very tiring."
Directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters is happy to have Chavanel on the Tour roster, as the Frenchman just recovered from serious injuries he suffered in a crash in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. This will be the Frenchman's 10th Tour de France, and his experience as well as rising form could save the Belgian team's Tour outcome.
"My form is nearly at the top right now," he explained. "I actually feel very fresh, as I had zero competition during the month of May and now only raced the Tour de Suisse and the French Championships. I don't think I ever came to a Tour feeling as fresh. My objective is to take at least one stage win, and if my overall placing is good towards the end, I hope to do at least as well overall as I did last year, when I finished 20th."
But first, the pavés of the third stage on Tuesday have to be mastered. "I like the pavés," he continued. "I'm eager to race, as I haven't raced much recently. You have to be motivated, as the first days will see some aggressive positioning in the peloton, which is very dangerous. Just before the cobbles, that's where it will be most dangerous, that's where racing with elbows out can cause massive crashes."
With rising form, Chavanel could also be seen in front of the race in the second or even third week, where several stages could suit his caracteristics. "I have the whole of the first week to get more racing rythm into my legs," he said. "I have to strong in my head, and regular. Then, there are some stages that could be interesting for me."
Moreover, Peeters can count on Kevin Seeldraeyers, best young rider of the 2009 Giro d'Italia. The Tour de France rookie is also determined to perform well. "Of course the Tour is more difficult than the Giro," commented Peeters. "His goal here will be to learn, and we will see how he will cope with the pressure and the intensity of racing at the Tour. But I wouldn't be surprised if he'll be a protagonist in the mountains."