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Intermarché: No deal yet for Pozzovivo but team aims to be competitive despite ‘grand tour vulnerability’

'I hope Girmay can be up there in the classics with Van Aert and Van der Poel,' says Visbeek.

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Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux had an incredible season on the road, punching well above expectations and winning 24 races in total.

The team was competitive across almost every area with Jan Hirt, Louis Meintjes, and Domenico Pozzovivo delivering in the grand tours while Alexander Kristoff and especially Biniam Girmay picked up one day and sprint success. For a team with such limited funds and a lack of household names, the Belgian squad was a complete revelation at WorldTour level.

Heading into 2023, the team has gone through something of a restructuring. Kristoff, Hirt, and Quinten Hermans have departed the team, while a raft of riders has joined. The classics squad has been bolstered by the arrival of Mike Teunissen, Rui Costa, and Lilian Calmejane have added steel and experience.

According to team boss Aike Visbeek, the team has looked to balance the added experience with several young riders who have joined the team, with new recruits Arne Marit, Rune Herregodts, Madis Mihkels, Laurenz Rex, Tom Paquot, and Dries De Pooter all 24 or younger.

“This has been a transitional period for the team. We had a smashing season and that sped up our development but it’s still against the backdrop of a small budget compared to the other teams, so obviously we lose riders but the important change for next year is the focus on development,” Visbeek told VeloNews.

“We’ve brought in younger riders. We still have experienced riders but we’ve brought in young guys too so our approach needs to be a bit different. We have to focus on making younger riders better but if we look at what to expect, I believe that we’ll have a competitive team when it comes to the classics, climbing, and now the Ardennes races.”

The loss of Hirt and potentially Pozzovivo does leave the team short when it comes to grand tours. Both riders made the top 10 in the Giro d’Italia in May, while Meintjes was rejuvenated this year with seventh in the Tour, a stage, and 11th overall at the Vuelta.

Pozzovivo has not yet decided on his future, and while a contract has not yet been offered by the team either, Visbeek is still open to keeping the 39-year-old who only joined on a one-season deal in February.

Also read: Intermarché boss: Door remains open for Tom Dumoulin, there was interest in Mark Cavendish

“We are most vulnerable in the GC at grand tours because Pozzovivo is not sure yet. We might lose him if he quits. We also lost Jan Hirt and they both had two of our three top-10s in grand tours, and that’s obviously a step back but we’re still a competitive team that’s going to be up there winning races. We want to win another classic and we’re desperate for our first Tour de France stage. They are the biggest goals,” he said.

“Pozzovivo needs to decide if he wants to go on, and we’re definitely open to keeping him on the team but it also depends on budget. We spent our budget, so we’re working on that. If we can get more funds then more is possible. It’s a bit of a complicated situation but it was good to have him on the team this year. If we can release the funds we’ll definitely talk to him. There’s no offer just yet.”

Teunissen’s arrival is something of a coup for the team. He will lead the line alongside Girmay in the classics, and Visbeek is confident that the Gent-Wevelgem winner can compete consistently with the very best one-day races come next spring.

“He’s one of the guys for the classics and the one-day races. I hope that he can be up there in the classics with Van Aert and Van der Poel and those other guys. He still has a bit left to get to that level to be consistently up there but that’s what I see him doing,” Visbeek added.

“We will not make changes in terms of preparation and season. We have some choices around the Giro or the Tour but we’ll mostly see the same classics. The part that we’re still trying to figure out is where he is based. He has his family in Eritrea, he’s been in Europe and moving back and forth between places but that’s where we need to find a bit more balance.”