REDON, France (VN) — Omega Pharma-Lotto made it clear from the first few kilometers of the 2011 Tour de France that the Belgian squad is here to race. With one stage win already in the bag, Omega is looking for more victories, plus a stint in the green jersey and a podium spot in Paris.
Fresh off winning the Belgian national championships, Philippe Gilbert made no secret of his intention to win the uphill kick on stage 1. And Omega showed full confidence, driving the peloton for most of the day.
Intentions and confidence are one thing; delivering the win something else entirely.
After leaving the entire peloton shaking its collective head at his show of dominance, Gilbert has already turned his attention to a win atop the Mur de Bretagne on Tuesday and perhaps securing the green jersey.
After stage 3, Gilbert is third in the green jersey competition with 52 points, behind Jose Rojas (65) and Tyler Farrar (58). His Omega teammate Greipel is down in tenth place with 26 points, one point and one place behind HTC-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish.
Omega team director Dirk De Wolf said he has a “luxury problem,” regarding whether the team should ride for Greipel or Gilbert for green jersey points.
“If we make a good leadout, we can get points for both of them,” De Wolf said “If Philippe does the last 100 meters for Greipel, Greipel can pass, and Philippe can still take some points. Then in the more hilly stages that are coming up, he can go for it.”
The Tour’s intermediate sprints structure changed this year. Instead of multiple intermediate sprints, there is just one, with much more points on tap than in years past. The top 15 across the intermediate sprint line get points ranging from 20 to 1. At the finish, the win is worth 45 points; 15th is worth 2.
Tour organizers made the change in the hopes of breaking up the typical sprint stage format, where a break is a allowed a long leash and the main sprinters often are content to ignore the intermediate points. It seems to be working.
On stage 3’s intermediate competition, Omega ramped up the leadout for the peloton behind a five-man break, but Cavendish charged first across the line. Cavendish and Thor Hushovd were later disqualified from the intermediate points for headbutting each other, which bumped Gilbert up to ninth and 7 intermediate points.
But the minutiae of the scoring aside, De Wolf said it’s important to keep the focus on the finish line.
“I learned a good lesson long ago from Robbie McEwen,” De Wolf said. “He said, ‘If you want to get the green jersey, first you must focus on winning the stage. Then you’ll see about the rest.’ Philippe won a stage already, so we’ll see about the rest. I know for sure Hushovd will try everything to have the green jersey in Paris. He did a great result on the first day. And then Garmin won (twice), so they will be expecting a lot, I think.”
Van Den Broeck stronger than ever
Although it should be hard to overlook someone so tall, Jurgen Van Den Broeck is flying well under the radar of most cycling fans talking about the Tour de France overall competition. The 6-foot-1 Belgian placed fifth overall in last year’s Tour, powering the time trials and climbing with all but the very best in the mountains.
This season he should be even better, says team boss De Wolf.
“His training has been more or less the same, but with different parameters. He is stronger,” De Wolf said. “Winning a stage of the Dauphiné was important for him for his morale.”
Important, indeed. Since turning professional with U.S. Postal Service in 2004, the former world junior time trial champion had performed well — such as a seventh overall at the 2008 Giro d’Italia — but had never won a professional race.
Although the team time trial set Van Den Broeck back to 31st, 39 seconds behind race leader Hushovd, the Belgian showed good form on stage 1 by placing fifth on a finish.
“And yesterday he was by far the best in the team time trial,” De Wolf said. “I have never seen him so good.”