They are the only WorldTour team to be without a win in 2015 but Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nico Verhoeven believes that spirits are high within the Dutch squad.
This season the team have taken a handful of second places but have missed out on winning a single race.
“Morale is ok but we’ve had a lot of injured riders and in February a lot of riders were sick with fever,” Verhoeven told Cyclingnews at the finish of stage 1 at the Tour de Yorkshire.
“When you have a smaller team than last year it makes it hard to make something in the big races.”
The squad have certainly been beset with illness and bad luck this year. Robert Gesink, Laurens ten Dam and Moreno Hofland have all missed large parts of the season already, while the squad has also shrunk in terms of budget and rider roster since last year when they competed as Belkin.
"Gesink is only now riding his second race of the year in Romandie and he’s one of the top riders in the team. Then Hofland only started today again and he was okay in Paris-Nice but then was sick. Ten Dam still isn’t right as he crashed and had four broken ribs earlier in the year. He’s riding again but he’s not in his best shape.”
Asked if the lack of wins was down to just bad luck alone, Verhoeven replied: “I don’t know. Take today, we had Steven Kruijswijk as our leader and someone rides into the back of him. That’s bad luck.”
One could argue that the longer the team go without taking their maiden victory the harder the task becomes. Morale in sport can be tough to gain but easy to dismantle and without a recognised sprinter who can guarantee a set number of wins per-season it’s hard to see where the team’s first win might come from.
“It’s not harder. We try to win races, likes today but we ended up missing our best rider for the climbs and then Hofland was dropped but so were all the top sprinters,” said Verhoeven.
At this point last year the team – as Belkin – had eight victories with four of them courtesy of Theo Bos in the Tour of Langkawi, while Hofland had chipped in with three. Bos, although he too has struggled this year, left the team in the winter and Verhoeven admits that the firepower in some of the smaller races hasn’t quite been there.
“We have to work, like we did last year. It’s not a good idea to start getting nervous. If I was nervous today then the result would still have been the same. We had bad luck and tomorrow is another day.
“The spirit is fine and they know that it’s not easy to win races. Last year we had a few like Theo Bos on the team and we did a race like Langkawi and won some stages with his sprint. That makes a difference but we lost three or four riders who could win ‘more easy races’ than the riders who stayed.”
Hofland could be their best outlet for their first win of the year. The Dutch rider is back on track and stage 2 of the Tour de Yorkshire is primed for the sprinters to decide the outcome.
“We thought that Hofland would move up a step. By this time last year he’d won three races but he’s only sprinted three times all year this season and he was seventh three times in Paris-Nice. He crashed in Ruta del Sol and only now is he fit again.”