Rabobank brings a squad to the Tour de France loaded with stage hunters and young GC contenders that the Dutch outfit cautiously hopes can catch a few favorites by surprise.
Robert Gesink headlines a Rabobank squad that admits it enters the Tour de France playing the outsider, something that sport director Erik Breukink says the team embraces.
“We know we do not come with a top favorite for victory,” Breukink told VeloNews. “We want to show ourselves in the race and try to win at least one stage. We have to see how the GC plays out, but we hope to push (Robert) Gesink as high as possible up the standings.”
The 26-year-old Dutch climber has put put behind him a string of troubles that saw him lose his father in a mountain biking accident in late 2010, suffer a back injury in the 2011 Tour and break his femur in late 2011. Gesink battled through those setbacks and revealed in the weeks ahead of the Tour that he is back at his best, winning the Amgen Tour of California in May and riding to fourth overall at the hotly contested Tour de Suisse earlier this month.
“Those kinds of problems also make a rider stronger. We saw that he is back at his level in one-week races. Now we have to see how he handles three weeks of a big tour, especially one as hard as the Tour,” Breukink said. “He’s relaxed and he’s in good physical shape. So many things can happen in a three-week tour. He’s ready to do well, but we also have a team to do many things. He’s happy with the Tour squad.”
Gesink has improved on his time trialing, something he revealed on hillier, more challenging TT courses at California and Switzerland. But the Tour’s longer, more power-based TT courses will work against Gesink, something that Breukink is quick to recognize.
“For sure, Robert is not one of the top favorites for victory. That would be (Cadel) Evans and (Bradley) Wiggins. And behind them there is a big group who can fight for top places, so we have to see how it goes,” Breukink said.
“We hope that Robert can show himself in the mountain stages and be there with the top riders. But for the overall, we do not put too much on it. We are confident. He has done sixth before, so we hope he can finish in the top 10.”
Mollema, Kruijswijk aiming for white
Gesink is the team’s top GC card, but young climbers Bauke Mollema, riding his second Tour after finishing fourth overall in last year’s Vuelta a España, and Stephen Kruijswijk, making his Tour debut, will also be trying to punch into the top 10 as well as hunt for the best young rider’s white jersey.
“We will see how those young guys can do. Bauke was good at the Vuelta and now he wants to show himself at the Tour,” Breukink said. “He’s shown he can be good, but to go well in the Tour is another step. He has to keep working to make that improvement. Maybe in a few years he can challenge for the podium. Right now he’s aiming for the top 10 and the white jersey.”
Behind the trio of Dutch climbers, Rabobank brings a mixed squad of stage hunters and opportunists who will get plenty of chances to hunt for victories.
Luís León Sánchez, Laurens Ten Dam and Bram Tankink all have marching orders to go on the attack when the right scenario plays out.
“We are satisfied with the level of the team. I don’t know if it’s the best team we’ve ever had, but we are happy. It all depends on the results,” he said. “We have a balanced team for all types of stages. We want to win at least one stage and we will be going on the attack.”
No train for Renshaw
Rabobank’s sprinter Mark Renshaw will largely be fending for himself in the bunch sprints.
Riders such Tankink and Maarten Tjallingii will try to put the Aussie sprinter on a good wheel in the closing kilometers, but what’s sure is that he will not have anything resembling a leadout train for the mass gallops.
“We don’t bring a guy who can pull the sprints for him, but Mark knows what the situation is,” Breukink said. “There are a lot of guys for the GC, so it’s difficult to also take guys for the sprints. He can find his way. He’s good at staying on the wheel, so we are hopeful he can win a stage.”
Renshaw has only won once so far this season, but has posted seven top-three finishes in the bunch sprints in his first full season as the top finisher since his move from High Road to Rabobank this year.
Breukink says the team has full confidence in Renshaw.
“We are very satisfied with Mark, otherwise he would not be on the Tour team,” Breukink said. “He fits in well with the team. He’s a good team player and brings a lot of experience to help the younger riders. He’s very well adapted to do many things and that’s another reason he’s on the team. It’s not just for the sprints.”
A course for specialists
Breukink admits Rabobank will be racing on its heels during this year’s Tour, when the presence of more than 100km of individual time trials tilts the advantage away from climbers such as Gesink.
Breukink said the climbers like Gesink will have to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves over the three weeks. He says it might not always be in the most obvious of places.
“We have to see how the race develops. Every day counts in the Tour. You have to be there from the prologue to the last day. You have to take your chances when they’re there and then try again,” he said. “It will be an exciting Tour. I don’t think everyone is just going to wait until the time trials.”