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The team with African roots brings a roster packed with a mix of stage-hunters and sprinters, and with Bjarne Riis behind the wheel at the Tour for the first time since 2014, the squad seems assured to jazz things up.
With no responsibility to race for the GC, Riis hopes to unleash his mix of riders on the Tour to create opportunities for breakaways as well as position its fleet of sprinters for the fast finishes.
“It’s obvious when you look at our roster that we’re going for stages, that’s going to be our main focus,” Riis said Tuesday. “From the start, we won’t have a big focus on the GC but rather for stages, and all kinds of them as we have a team that can feature on the sprints, massif sprints, the middle stages, and hopefully also some mountain stages.”
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Romain Kreuziger headline the roster that also includes South African champion Ryan Gibbons, Michael Valgren, Domenico Pozzovivo, Max Walscheid, Giacomo Nizzolo, and Michael Gogl. A few notable absences include Louis Meintjes, Ben King, and Victor Campenaerts, who are expected to race the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a España.
Of the team’s eight starters, only Boasson Hagen has won a Tour stage, with three victories on his palmarès (two in 2011, one in 2017). Gibbons and Walscheid are making their respective Tour debuts.
Nizzolo, the eternal bridesmaid in grand tour sprints, hopes to break through with victory, and will see strong support in the flatter stages from Gibbons and Valgren. Walscheid can also carry speed into a reduced bunch finale, while Boasson Hagen is always a threat in uphill finales and breakaway groups.
“Bjarne’s going to put some pressure on us,” Valgren said. “He’s a man that likes to make some crazy tactics once in a while and to go and take a risk, and that’s what we need, so it’s definitely going to be 21 interesting stages to see.”
Pozzovivo, back in his first grand tour since his career-threatening crash last summer, along with Kreuziger and Gogl will have freedom to march in the mountains. In short, the team brings riders for just about every scenario, except the final GC podium in Paris.
“If I think that just a year ago I had such a terrible accident where I risked my life, I thought it would be impossible to start the Tour again, and to just simply be back racing is a great result for me,” Pozzovivo said. “The goal for the race will be for me to be a protagonist on the mountain stages because there are a lot of chances/possibilities for climbers.”
In what will be the team’s sixth Tour appearance, this will be the first since Riis bought into NTT management this season. The 1996 Tour winner packs a mix of tactical expertise — not to mention a bit of controversy — and will be leading the sport directors as the team tries to win its first Tour stage since 2017.
“I’m excited to be back at the Tour again, it’s been a while, too long I would say, but I’m excited to see if we can deliver some nice results for the team,” Riis said.
“Everything is up for grabs in this race,” he continued. “The Dauphiné was very, very hard and some will pay for that, and some will come out better. There is a huge fight between Jumbo-Visma and Ineos – absolutely – but it’s going to be interesting.
“What’s important is that we take care of our team, do the right things and race intelligently at the Tour because for a team like ours that’s important and somehow save a little bit for the last week, because I believe that week will be very difficult – many will suffer and hopefully we can save something for that.”
NTT Pro Cycling for Tour de France
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor)
Romain Kreuziger (Cze)
Ryan Gibbons (RSA)
Michael Valgren (Den)
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita)
Max Walscheid (Ger)
Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita)
Michael Gogl (Aut)