When Belkin announced that it was withdrawing from cycling just a fortnight before this year’s Tour de France, it suddenly appeared that the Netherlands would join Spain in having just a single team at WorldTour level. Local sponsors were reluctant to commit following a string of doping confessions from Dutch stars of the past, and with no major backer in sight, team boss Richard Plugge turned initially to crowd-funded sponsorship and admitted he might have to run the squad on a very reduced budget.
But what a difference a month made. The first week of the Tour saw Lars Boom claim a high-profile victory on the Tour stage over the cobbles to Arenberg. Added to the prospect of next year’s race starting on Dutch soil, twin saviours then appeared at the end of July in the shape of Dutch Lotto and Brand Loyalty, who were later joined by supermarket chain Jumbo.
With the LottoNL-Jumbo team’s first training camp set to take place in Spain early next month, directeur sportif Merrijn Zeeman acknowledges that there have been some difficulties in the last few months. But he insists that the team’s new lease of life and the emergence of Pro Continental outfit Rompoot-Orange are clear indications that the sport is on the up in the Netherlands.
"The great thing for us is that Dutch companies are more interested in cycling again, and this is certainly a good time to be in the sport," Zeeman told Cyclingnews. "Our new sponsors are big companies that are very excited about getting into pro cycling, which is a really positive step forwards for the sport in Holland because we’ve had some bad publicity in the recent past."
Zeeman says the team’s presentation in Utrecht last month created a huge buzz, not least because next year’s Grand Départ takes place in the city. "It’s given a real boost to Dutch cycling. Some of our guys already experienced a home start in Rotterdam in 2010, but for many of the others this is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Zeeman.
"But we’ve guys like Wilco Kelderman, who’s from close to Utrecht, and they are going to be hugely excited when the Tour comes and they’re racing on their home roads. Everyone in Holland is excited by the prospect, in exactly the same way that people in Yorkshire were this year."
Following the departure of team leader Bauke Mollema to Trek, Kelderman, who placed seventh at the Giro, is set to step up into a much more prominent role when he makes his Tour debut in July alongside established riders such as Robert Gesink and Laurens ten Dam.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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