Gerben Thijssen in stable condition
Lotto Zesdaagse Gent
On Saturday 6 July, the 106th edition of the Tour de France will kick off in Brussels with a sprint stage. After three weeks full of spectacle, the Tour will traditionally end on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. The Lotto Soudal line-up already looks ahead.
Tiesj Benoot: “Despite the injury after Paris-Roubaix, I have reached – by working really hard - a very good shape for the Tour de France and I feel completely ready for the start. I don’t have any feelings of revenge after my crash last year, when I was forced to abandon the Tour early in the race. I rather want to make things right after the spring Classics. I was riding quite well but I do not feel like I obtained that big result, something I do aim for in this Tour. During the presentation of the course last year, I already noticed that there would be a fair amount of chances for the escapees. However, I did not target any specific stages just yet but I will try to seize any opportunity I get. The fact that I climb really well is of course an additional advantage. The young rider classification definitely appeals to me and I would really like to wear the white jersey once, but a stage victory will always prevail. I’m hoping for a Tour like two years ago but with one real highlight.”
Jasper De Buyst: “The cliché says that on the one hand you have cycling and that on the other hand the Tour de France is above that. This will be my second participation and I can only confirm that the cliché is right. I’m in better shape than last year, when I still had to go through a period of rehab after my crash in the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque. I had the perfect preparation with the Giro and the ZLM Tour this year. In both races, I got, together with my teammates, the chance to finetune the sprint train for Caleb. The advantage is that Caleb can handle the fast finishes as well as the harder ones. In the meantime we have found each other and the motivation to start that first stage is gigantic. The Tour de France always entails big pressure, but you have to deal with that. We will do anything to win and to conquer the yellow jersey this Saturday. I grew up near Brussels, so the start is like racing in my backyard.”
Thomas De Gendt: “On the one hand we have a sprinter who has a good chance of winning a stage, so in the first place I will ride at the service of Caleb Ewan. On the other hand, wherever I start, my goal is to win a stage and that will be no different in the Tour de France. I will wait for the Vosges to make my move. It is an advantage that we have several riders with a free role within our line-up. If there is a breakaway group of 30 riders and you are in it with one or even two teammates, you will have more chance than being on your own. Tiesj Benoot and Tim Wellens will also often go on the attack and if we manage to be in the right breakaway together, that could be in my favor. As a Belgian, it’s great to experience the start of this Tour de France in Brussels. The hotel where we will be staying is only 55 kilometres from my house, I don’t think you can start a Grand Tour any closer than that.”
Caleb Ewan: “Starting in Brussels will be a great way to kick off my first Tour. There are going to be good sprinters and everybody is in their best form but already having six wins this season definitely means that I am going to the Tour with confidence. The opening stage is for sure going to be dangerous. All the general classification riders will want to stay out of trouble and all the sprinters want to be at the front as it is not only a chance to take the stage win but also to earn the first yellow jersey. Depending on how well I will be climbing, I think there are six to eight sprint chances. The rather difficult finales can really benefit my chances but at the Tour, there are some real specialists in the uphill finishes and at the end of the day, I am more of a sprinter for the flats. If I complete the Tour with one stage win, I will be satisfied but I am of course always aiming for as many wins as possible.”
Jens Keukeleire: “With Caleb Ewan, we have a very good chance of winning one or multiple stages. Personally I will already be happy if I can fulfill my role to help Caleb. We only rode Milan – San Remo together this year, so I don’t know yet what my specific role in the sprint train will be. Anyway, I will be very happy if we could win a stage, because winning in the Tour de France remains something really special. Besides, there are lots of transition stages this year. We will see when I will get the freedom of the team to try to break away. This is not my first Tour de France, so I know how hard it is to be in the right breakaway! Because of the start in Belgium, I think there will be a lot of people. Especially because the peloton will face the Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg already in the first stage. But the more people next to the road, the more nervous the peloton will be.”
Roger Kluge: “The opening stage is a big opportunity for Caleb and Lotto Soudal as a team. We aim for the win and it would be the icing on the cake of what we have achieved so far this season. We have a really strong team and if everything falls into place, we can do it. Like the past races, Jasper De Buyst will be the final guy in the lead-out for Caleb. I will be the penultimate rider and with Jens Keukeleire, we have another strong rider who can be there during the sprint preparation. Of course, it is a dream – after earlier stage success in the Giro – to win a stage in the Tour, but I don’t think about that at all. In the first place, I am there to fully support Caleb. Compared to the Giro, the run-up to the sprints may be a little less chaotic as some pure sprinters like Démare and Ackermann won’t be there.”
Maxime Monfort: “With an altitude training camp and nine days of racing at a really high level in the Tour de Suisse, the preparation for the Tour went perfect. Of course, the start of the Tour in my hometown Liège in 2012 was really emotional but Le Grand Départ in Brussels will be something special as well. Especially during the first ten days, I will fully ride at the service of the team and, if necessary, lead the peloton. In the last week, I can try to go in the break myself or support riders like Benoot, De Gendt or Wellens. The serving role is not really new to me as I have been teammates with riders like Cavendish or the Schleck brothers in the past. I still feel very strong but I can’t obtain a top ten result in a Grand Tour or another stage race anymore. During four years, I could do my own thing within Lotto Soudal but after internal dialogue, I have been working for the team the past few months. When my Tour will be successful? That fully depends on what we perform as a team.”
Tim Wellens: “We go to the Tour de France with a strong team. Caleb Ewan is our leader and we all believe in his abilities. This is my third Tour de France and I have learned from the past. My last two performances in France haven’t been the most successful ones. I will never be a fan of the extreme temperatures, but I’m prepared. I went to Dubai for some tests and hopefully they will pay off. I don’t want to attack impulsively anymore like I did in the past, but I want to be more efficient with my energy. With the Tour of Belgium and a lot of training blocks, I had a different preparation. I also think that I will be at the start with better legs this year. As a Belgian rider, it’s very special to start a Grand Tour in your own country.”
Starting in Brussels will be a great way to kick off my first Tour.