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It will be a battle royale among the peloton’s top sprinters, with the chance of a lifetime to claim the yellow jersey in the opening stage of the Tour de France.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) are viewed as the top favorites to contest for victory and the maillot jaune in the opening stage July 5 to Harrogate, but Lotto-Belisol is hoping to spoil the party.
The Belgian team is bringing a buffed-out André Greipel, backed by a formidable sprint train, to aim for the elusive yellow jersey.
“It’s exceptional that for the second year in a row the Tour doesn’t start with a time trial and a sprinter can take the yellow jersey,” said Lotto manager Mark Sergeant in a team release. “That’s, of course, our goal.”
Lotto brings a mixed squad to the 2014 Tour, with Greipel and Jurgen van den Broeck to co-captain. Greipel will have several key men to help in the closing kilometers of the sprints, with Marcel Sieberg, Greg Henderson, and Jurgen Roelandts all there to help the “Gorilla.”
With race organizers sticking to their policy of no time bonuses, sprinters have almost no chance to wear yellow.
Last year, the Tour ditched the long tradition of an opening prologue in favor of a first-day road stage. Kittel won the crash-marred finale on Corsica to claim the yellow jersey.
Cavendish will be under heavy pressure to win. Not only has the “Manxster” never worn yellow, the race is on home roads, and the stage will finish in the hometown of his mother.
It will be interesting to see if Greipel can muscle in on the party. The German ace has racked up 11 wins so far this season, but none of them in UCI WorldTour-level races.
Since moving to Lotto, Greipel has won five stages in the past three editions of the Tour, and will be keen to prove he’s at the same level as Cavendish and Kittel in the bunch sprints.
“I expect about eight bunch sprints. Three teams will aim for the victory with their top sprinter, and apart from them there are guys like [André] Démare and [Peter] Sagan,” Sergeant continued. “The second stage in England is cut out for strong guys, possibly a break will battle for the victory.”
So far in the Tour, Greipel has not seriously contested for the green points jersey. And that doesn’t appear to be changing for 2014, when a focus on stage victories will be Greipel’s lone priority in the bunch sprints.
For the GC, the team is hoping Van den Broeck is back to a good level following his career-threatening crash in last year’s Tour. The Belgian all-rounder proved he was back in fighting form, riding onto the final podium at the Critérium du Dauphiné last week behind winner Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“More than ever Jurgen gave the impression in the Dauphiné that he can aim high. As a team we showed much understanding and patience after his crash in the Tour and the difficult first part of the season,” Sergeant continued. “His recons and training camps went smoothly and the Dauphiné gave the last confirmation.”
Others, such as Lars Bak, Tony Gallopin, and Adam Hansen, will have freedom to attack in breakaways at appropriate moments of the race. Hansen, meanwhile, will be starting his ninth consecutive grand tour, hoping to keep alive his streak of starting and completing the past eight grand tours in a row.
Lotto-Belisol for Tour de France (July 5-27)
André Greipel (GER)
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL)
Adam Hansen (AUS)
Tony Gallopin (FRA)
Jurgen Roelandts (BEL)
Bart de Clercq (BEL)
Lars Bak (DEN)
Greg Henderson (NZL)
Marcel Sieberg (GER)