LottoNL-Jumbo have confirmed that Robert Gesink will miss the Tour de France as a result of the injuries he suffered in a crash at last week’s Tour de Suisse. The Dutch squad will be led by Wilco Kelderman, who finished 8th overall in Switzerland, while Ster ZLM Toer winner Sep Vanmarcke is among the riders chasing a stage victory.
"I've put a lot of energy into my preparations for the Tour de France and I felt strong [in training] on Tenerife. It's a big disappointment that I have to miss the Tour because of this setback," said Gesink, who suffered a head injury when he crashed on the opening road stage of the Tour de Suisse.
Gesink placed 6th overall at last year's Tour and 4th in 2010, though he has endured a troubled relationship with the race throughout his career and had to abandon as a consequence of crashes in 2009 and 2012.
Kelderman, who struggled on his Tour debut a year ago, will lead the line for LottoNL-Jumbo, though directeur sportif Nico Verhoeven insisted that Gesink's absence will not alter the youngster's ambitions for the race.
"The absence of Gesink doesn't change the role Wilco Kelderman's going to play," Verhoeven said. "Wilco goes to the Tour de France in a free role. Now Gesink falls away, he holds the position we planned with him."
Still eligible for the white jersey of best young rider, Kelderman highlighted his credentials over three weeks with a 7th place finish at the 2014 Giro d'Italia. He led the Tour de Suisse for a day before slipping back on the final weekend of racing. He hinted that he will target a stage win at the Tour rather than a high overall finish in Paris.
"I'm going to the Tour de France with a lot of confidence," Kelderman said. "I've had a good period of training and most of the days in the Tour de Suisse went well. I'm looking forward to the Tour and we're going to aim for good results. My free role gives me the chance to choose some stages to aim for. My chances are in the mountains."
George Bennett, who finished 7th overall at the Tour of California in May and also performed strongly at the Tour of Oman and Critérium du Dauphiné, was the man drafted into the team to replace Gesink. A professional since 2012, the New Zealander is making his Tour debut.
Joining Kelderman, Bennett and Vanmarcke in the LottoNL-Jumbo squad for the Tour are Dylan Groenewegen, Bert-Jan Lindemen, Paul Martens, Timo Roosen, Robert Wagner and Maarten Wynants.
Groenewegen has won six races in 2016 after joining from Roompot during the off-season and he highlighted his form by landing a stage victory at the Ster ZLM Toer last week. Although he will be able to count on a sprint train at the Tour, the 23-year-old is under no immediate pressure to land a win on his debut in La Grande Boucle, which gets underway in Mont-Saint-Michel on July 2.
"We're in a process in which we aim for a stage win in the Tour de France of 2018," Groenewegen said. "It went quite fast with the development of the sprint lead-out this season. Of course we want to deliver something beautiful in the Tour and when it's up to me, it's going to be something very beautiful, but I shouldn't expect myself to be able to win a stage immediately.
"There are going to come a lot of chances for the sprinters in the first week, so I will focus on that part of the race. I have to see how it goes afterwards. It would be nice if I'm able to finish the Tour so I can bring that experience to the upcoming seasons."
Steven Kruijswijk, who placed fourth at the Giro d'Italia after leading for most of the final week, was not in contention for a Tour berth. The Dutchman will instead train at altitude before racing the Olympic Games road race in Rio and targeting the general classification at the Vuelta a España.
LottoNL-Jumbo team for the Tour de France: George Bennett (NZl), Dylan Groenewegen (Ned), Wilco Kelderman (Ned), Bert-Jan Lindemen (Ned), Paul Martens (Ger), Timo Roosen (Ned), Sep Vanmarcke (Bel), Robert Wagner (Ger) and Maarten Wynants (Ned).
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