Road

High hopes for Omega Pharma-Lotto in 2011

Omega Pharma-Lotto enters the 2011 season with high expectations.

Omega Pharma-Lotto enters the 2011 season with high expectations.

The arrival of German sprinter André Greipel should help the team bolster its tally in the win category and team brass are hoping for further success from classics star Philippe Gilbert and confirmation of Tour de France contender Jurgen Van den Broeck.

The Belgian team officially rolled out its 2011 lineup in a presentation Wednesday in Belgium and the 27-rider squad is optimistic it will improve on its solid performance last season.

“Whether it’s in the classics with Gilbert, the Tour with VDB, or in the sprints with Greipel, we are at the top and we mean to stay there,” Marc Sergeant was quoted by La Dernière Heure. “Doing as well as last year won’t be easy, but we want to retain our place in the top-10 overall in the world rankings.”

A year ago, despite the exit of world champion Cadel Evans for BMC, Sergeant set ambitious goals for the team that included a classics victory with Gilbert and a top-10 by Van den Broeck. The team exceeded those goals, with wins by Gilbert at Amstel Gold Race and Giro di Lombardia and fifth at the Tour with Van den Broeck.

“We waited a long time for our success,” Sargeant continued. “The past season was magnificent, but we missed a sprinter. So the arrival of Greipel fills that gap. We’ll win more often than last year, but it’s not fair to Gilbert to expect him to win two classics every season and we hope that VDB can be once again in the top five at the Tour, perhaps even the podium.”

The arrival of Greipel, who won 20-plus races last year with HTC-Columbia, should help bolster the team’s podium time.

Last year, Omega Pharma-Lotto only won 11 races, all by just four riders. Gilbert was the most prolific, winning Amstel Gold and Lombardia along with two stages at the Vuelta a España, Gran Piemonte and a stage at the Tour of Belgium. Matt Lloyd won a stage at the Giro d’Italia en route to winning the green climber’s jersey while British up-and-comer Adam Blythe won four races, including two stages and the overall at the Circuit Franco-Belge.

Greipel should get his fair share of wins, though it remains to be seen how effective he will be without the efficient HTC-HighRoad train setting him up. The German brought along a good portion of riders he consistently counted on at HTC, including Marcel Seiberg, Vincente Reynes and Adam Hansen.

Also, it will be interesting to see how well he rides going head-to-head to the peloton’s best sprinters, such as ex-teammate Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo). Greipel’s wins came in large in second-tier races where the pack’s fastest finishers were often not at the start line.

Greipel will finally get the shot at the Tour that he always wanted, but he’ll also be under pressure to prove he’s up to the job. He went winless at the Tour Down Under last month, the race he dominated in the three previous editions with nine stage victories and one overall title.

Van den Broeck, meanwhile, will also be under tremendous media pressure to equal his solid fifth-place overall in last year’s Tour.

Belgium hasn’t had a legitimate Tour contender since the 1970s, so the cycling-crazed nation will be looking at the sometimes mercurial Van den Broeck to carry a nation’s hope in cycling’s most important stage race. Van den Broeck admits he’s been working with a psychologist to help handle the mental stresses that come with Tour contender status.

“The basic goal remains a top-10, but I will try to top my fifth from last year,” Van den Broeck said during the team’s presentation Wednesday in Sint-Laureins. “Even with Contador’s suspension, it will be difficult to reach the podium. Andy and Frank Schleck are the favorites for the podium, along with Vinokourov and Sánchez. I have to improve in the high mountains. We have made some tests in the wind tunnel to improve my position for the time trial, but I am still getting used to the position.”

Gilbert is coming off his best season ever and is setting his goals even higher, with Flanders and Liège as his top challenges for the spring classics.

“My ambition remains the same to try to win the big races, but perhaps with different targets,” he said. “I still dream of Flanders and Liège. We have a lot of new riders, so hopefully we will not have to wait until April to get our first victories.”

2011 Omega Pharma-Lotto

Mario Aerts (Bel)
Jan Bakelants (Bel)
Adam Blythe (GBR)
Francis De Greef (Bel)
Kenny Dehaes (Bel)
Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
Olivier Kaisen (Bel)
Sebastian Lang (Bel)
Matthew Lloyd (Aus)
Jurgen Roelandts (Bel)
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel)
Jelle Vanendert (Bel)

New for 2011

David Boucher (Fra – Landbouwkrediet)
Bart De Clerq (Bel – amateur)
Jens Debusschere (Bel – stagiaire 2010)
Gert Dockx (Bel – HTC-Columbia)
Andre Greipel (Ger – HTC-Columbia)
Adam Hansen (Aus – HTC-Columbia)
Klaas Lodewyck (Bel – Topsport Vlaanderen)
Maaertens Neyens (Bel – Topsport Vlaanderen)
Oscar Pujol (Spa – Cervélo)
Vincente Reynes (Spa – HTC-Columbia)
Marcel Sieberg (Ger – HTC-Columbia)
Jurgen Van de Walle (Bel – Quick Step)
Sven Vandousselaere (Bel – Jong Vlaanderen)
Jussi Veikkanen (Fin – FDJ)
Frederik Willems (Bel – Liquigas)

Out for 2011

Christophe Brandt (Bel – retires)
Wilfred Cretskens (Bel – no team)
Mickael Delage (Fra – FDJ)
Glen d’Hollander (Bel – retires)
Michiel Elijzen (Fra – retires)
Leif Hoste (Bel – Katusha)
Jonas Ljungblad (Swe – Differdange)
Gerben Lowik (Fra – no team)
Daniel Moreno (Spa – Katusha)
Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra – Ag2r)
Staf Scheirlinckxx (Bel – Verandas Willems)
Tom Stubbe (Bel – Donckers)
Greg Van Avermaet (Bel – BMC)
Jurgen Van Goolen (Bel – Verandas Willems)
Charlie Wegelius (GBR – UnitedHealthcare)