T-Mobile is sending a mixed squad of sprinters, classics specialists and neo-pros into action at this week's Circuit Franco-Belge, which starts tomorrow in Belgium and concludes this Sunday, October 2. The four-day stage race (UCI 2.1) mainly takes place in the south-western part of Belgium, but also makes its way over the French border.
Dutchman Bram Schmitz is the magenta team's designated GC man, while sprinters Eric Baumann and Andre Korff will fancy their chances in bunch finishes. "Andre Korff rode a solid Vuelta, so if he can carry his form from Spain and the legs oblige, he will be up there fighting for stage wins. He can also count on the support of Eric Baumann," said Frans von Looy, who will be the team's directeur sportif for the race.
"Bram Schmitz likes this race and this terrain and he is our leader in the GC battle," added von Looy. Neo-pros Bas Giling and Bernhard Kohl are back in the saddle after recent outings in Poland and the Vuelta, while Stephan Schreck will be winding down a long season in Belgium. Rounding out the magenta roster is the Czech rider Tomas Konecny, whose focus is still geared towards getting race miles under his belt after missing most of the current season with a broken leg.
720 kilometres are on the programme for the 19 teams (including 11 ProTour teams) that have signed up for the traditional race, which combines two flat stages with two lumpier classics-style stages. The notorious Belgian cross-winds are sure to make it a tricky race. Said van Looy: "Unsettled weather can make this race a very tough one for the peloton. Crosswinds and heavy rain often combine to blow the field apart."
Last year, the race served as a World's warm-up for riders like Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen, who won three stages between them. This year, the race falls after the World's and while that might leave the race short of some star names, it is unlikely to dull the competitive edge of those competing. The race is important to the Belgians in particular, and buoyed by their country's success in Madrid on Sunday, the Quick.Step, Lotto, Chocolade Jacques T-Interim and Mr Bookmaker.com will be keen to stamp their authority on the race and monopolise the podium places.
Team roster: Eric Baumann, Bas Giling, Bernhard Kohl, André, Korff, Tomas Konecny, Bram Schmitz, Stephan Schreck Directeur-sportif: Frans von Looy