Jurgen Van den Broeck's mature performance at the Tour de France has Belgian cycling fans swooning, not least of all Omega Pharma boss Marc Coucke.
With his fifth place overall, Van den Broeck became the first Belgian since Claude Criquielion in 1986 to make the top quintet of riders at the Tour by race's end and it signals a new era of optimism in the Omega Pharma-Lotto squad.
"We have worked seven years to achieve this," Coucke told Sporza. "Evans was one of the top riders of our team, but Cadel wasn't Belgian, of course. This is different."
"Jurgen has proved that he is world class. His performance is an example for the youth. Belgium is proud of us," he added.
Greipel deal almost done
The advent of Van den Broeck as a Grand Tour force is vindication for the lean periods suffered by the squad over the past two years, and Coucke hopes the likes of Philippe Gilbert and imminent signing André Greipel can continue that process.
"We're working towards the future. We have almost agreed [terms] with Andre Greipel. In sporting and financial terms, negotiations have concluded. Maybe we can sign the contract in about two weeks," said Coucke.
"He wants to bring a few strong riders. It can also be positive for Van den Broeck and Philippe Gilbert," he explained.
"I flew over the cobbles a little"
Riding into Paris safe in the knowledge he had made the Tour's top five, Van den Broeck says he was living a scenario long imagined but seldom thought possible until yesterday.
"I flew over the cobbles a little - the last eight laps were a dream and enjoyable," said Van den Broeck. "Every lap I thought, 'This cannot be true'. As a child I watched the Tour and I thought: 'Wow, that top five is for big riders'. And now I am there myself. It's difficult to express and understand. Now I'll enjoy it."
The 27-year-old added that he had received wide acclaim throughout the peloton, with seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong one of the big names adding his voice to congratulations for the Belgian.
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