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It won’t be long now until the peloton takes to the roads (and cobbles) in the spring classics. But before our riders get the chance to shine on Belgian soil, they travelled all the way to the southern hemisphere for the Tour Down Under (Australia) and the Vuelta a San Juan (Argentina). The starting shot in the Challenge Mallorca was also fired on Thursday 31 January. This four-day event consists of four separate races: the Trofeos. Click here to find out how our riders fared in these early trials.
1. Tour Down Under
With the first World Tour event taking place ‘down under’ in the middle of January, the brand new cycling season has now taken off in earnest. A few riders, such Adam Blythe, Carl Fredrik Hagen, Roger Kluge and Caleb Ewan, marked their first outing in the new Lotto Soudal jersey during the Tour Down Under. For Ewan in particular, it was a pretty special occasion: he couldn't wait to represent our colours in his country of birth. Our Australian sprint sensation didn’t exactly disappoint: the 24-year-old was first across the line in the Down Under Classic — the criterium race that precedes the Tour — reminding everyone once again why he’s affectionately known as the Pocket Rocket! World class sprinter Peter Sagan fell just short during the final few seconds and had to concede defeat against the Lotto Soudal rider. Ewan also had at least one of the stages in the Tour Down Under in his sights, but failed to clinch the honours. He was first across the line in Stage 5, but an irregularity during the sprint meant he wasn't able to claim his first victory in Lotto Soudal colours.
2. Vuelta a San Juan
Jelle Wallays suffered a serious fall following a crash right in front of him during the second stage of the Vuelta a San Juan. The rider from West Flanders came away from the incident with facial injuries: he cut his upper lip and broke his jaw. He also lost one tooth and chipped another. Sadly, it doesn’t end there: later, it became apparent that Wallays suffered a concussion, meaning he had to spend the night under observation in an Argentinian hospital. Understandably, the other Lotto Soudal riders were shaken up by their teammate’s fall, but luckily, eternal optimist ‘Wally’ is already looking forward to getting back in the saddle. “We all take a tumble every now and then — my wounds will heal soon enough!” were Jelle's first words once he’d had the time to come to terms with what had happened. The 29-year-old is now recovering at home, but he will have to stay on liquid food for the next three weeks. Wallays wasn’t the only Lotto Soudal rider to suffer a fall: Tiesj Benoot was also involved in a crash. Luckily, he came away with nothing more than a few grazes and scrapes.
Even though the incidents at the Vuelta a San Juan reminded everyone of the risks involved in cycling, Jens Keukeleire was able to claim fourth place in the second stage.
3. Challenge Mallorca
The first European races of the season were run on the Spanish island of Mallorca between Thursday 31 January and Sunday 3 February. The Challenge Mallorca consisted of four individual races: the so-called Trofeos. With riders like Armée, Lambrecht, Monfort, Vanhoucke and Wellens, we had plenty of climbing talent in our selection.
Director of Sports Herman Frison shares his thoughts: “For most riders, this was the first race of the season. As a result, the atmosphere is always a bit tense because nobody knows exactly what kind of form they’re in. The races in Mallorca were the perfect way to get those first competitive kilometres in our legs, and our goal was to leave the island with at least one victory. Tim Wellens has claimed a few Trofeos before, so he took centre stage in our team. Generally speaking, you can rest assured that Tim is in perfect form early on in the season.” Wellens proved exactly that by finishing in the top five during the first Trofeo.
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