Westra's retirement opens door for Dion Smith at Wanty-Groupe Gobert

The sudden and unexpected retirement of Lieuwe Westra from Pro Continental team Wanty-Groupe Gobert has opened an opportunity for 23-year-old Dion Smith, who raced with ONE Pro Cycling last season, and was due to remain with the team until it was met with a drawback in budget and a move down to the Continental level for this year.

The New Zealander signed a two-year deal with the Belgian team.

Smith previously rode for the Hincapie team in the US for two years before moving on to what had initially been a two-year deal with One Pro Cycling starting in 2016.

Westra, 34, rode on the WorldTour level for six years, the past three with Astana. He was the final 2017 signing Wanty-Groupe Gobert, but he abruptly announced last week he was retiring from the sport.

Wanty-Groupe Gobert acted quickly to fill the vacant spot.

"The goal of our team is to keep developing young talents," said team General Manager Jean-François Bourlart. "We were talking to Dion since internal changes at One Pro Cycling. Unfortunately, we had no more space for him this year. But following the stop of Lieuwe Westra, we had a golden opportunity to hire him. It is important to be able to secure a talented young rider as him for two years."

Wanty-Groupe Gobert director Hilaire Van der Schueren said they were attracted to Smith's consistency. 

"We are happy to welcome a rider with his profile in the team," Van der Schueren said. "He is a true allrounder, able to express himself on all types of terrain. I want to see him at work to discover his limits. After the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, he will return with us to compete in the Tour of Algarve."

Wanty-Groupe Gobert also announced on Friday that the team extended the contract of 23-year-old French climber Guillaume Martin through the end of 2018. Martin will begin his season at the GP la Marseillaise before continuing with the Tour of Oman and the classics Drôme and Ardeche.

"The prolongation of a year is a proof of intelligence on his part," said director Sébastien Demarbaix. "He favours his progression with a little less pressure on his shoulders. This will allow us to focus on three or four objectives without setting expectations on his entire schedule.

"Guillaume is a quality rider, an enormous talent that could break out in May on mountain stages in Tour de Romandie, Switzerland or the Dauphiné in case we are invited," Demarbaix. "Same thing for a possible grand tour, where he should not concentrate on the general classification but on escapes in mountain stages."

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