Written by Simon de Montfort of
"Here I go again on my own
Goin' down the only road I've ever known…"
This was a big hit by Whitesnake and I am sure they meant the cobbled roads of Antwerpen in this song, didn’t they? Here we meet again for the fantastic TvA tour. Welcome everyone and lets together take a look at the teams who signed up this time.
The best French team arrives at the tour with one cobbler and 5 TTers. Their manager Dillion was speaking openly about his tactics at the press conference in Hoogstraten: “We are here to win the first stage, hence 5 TTers in our team”. Kadir Goncalves will be their captain for the remaining stages but he will be there alone so whatever he achieves will be considered as a bonus.
Theofanis Anastasakis will lead the American team. He tried his luck once at this tour in season 39 and finished 7th. He has good support so we may expect a top 5 result from him this time around, providing that his team does not change the focus and will not push for the YC with their young South African cobbler Glenn Kriel.
Team Nefal will be targeting the first and the last stages with their two TTers and an experienced sprinter Ronaldo Aguila. So no threat in any of the classifications, just hunting for stage wins.
With PVAXX we have 6 riders from Bermuda Islands, which means they can form two Bermudan triangles on the road… Sounds scary! The rider who will want to mess things up in the GC will be Horatio Higginson. He is still young and fairly new to the peloton, but he made an impression last season finishing 4th in the Haute-Normandie, so a top 9 in GC should be within his reach.
Another very strong team which targets the opening time trial stage. It has been a rule for the last few seasons that a lot of TTers come to the tour and fight for this one stage win and it is no different this time.
Even though they have Aldo Edescalzi, a decent cobbler on their team, manager Virenque did not decide to sign him up to this tour. He delegated a sprinter Pascal Desando instead, who will target the last stage. Proper cobble teams are certainly happy about this selection – less competition in the GC for them!
His record in last couple of seasons: 6th – pass – 10th – 4th – 7th. If he took part, he finished in top 10. But never on podium. Maybe this time? Vuong Duc The, one of the most successful Asian cobbler has just won Roubaix Classic and he arrives at the tour to win it. Maybe this time he will succeed.
Marcio Fialho and Lucas Loudon – two great riders on one team. Isnt it too many? No, because those two guys can work
quite well together. They both are capable of winning the tour (Lucas won it twice, while Marcio was 4th at two occasions) and they both are a big threat in the GC, no matter which one will be the captain. Manager Jempie will probably decide on his tactics after the opening time trial.
Did we mention already that the TT stage is important to a lot of riders? Yeah, we did. Naturally Adonis Laurenco and Hermano Montenegro could not miss the opportunity to fight with the best sprinters in the world and also arrived to the tour, solely for this particular stage. The rest of the team are four water carriers who will struggle to finish the stages within the time limit.
For Andrea Camata, 32yo, it will be the 7th appearance in this tour. It never suited him perfectly and his best result was 5th place in a GC, but he managed to get a result on stage 2 or 3 from time to time. Here he is again with the same target – a stage result and a top 9 GC finish. For those who target the YC, watch out for Max Jonker.
With his 15th and 17th places in last two editions Jacinto Cresaco will want to finish within top 9 this time. But it will not be an easy task, as his team mates are not that strong and the best of them, Venjamin Sala, may think more of his own placing in the YC rather than helping out his captain.
Now that is a proper cobble team, isn’t it? Manager Gerets has a lot of cards to play with his 4 strong riders, out of which two can aim at top 9 in GC (Garth Yocum and Petter Nyland) while the other two will surely fight for the YC win (Joeri Bessing and more likely Bram Demouge, who is a better TTer than his fellow Dutchmen).
The duo of veterans Jason Stockford and Pascal Steurs will lead team Carcycl in this edition. Jason rode this race only once before, but he is now 35yo and it may be a goodbye tour for him. Pascal is a bit younger and has more experience in this tour, but both riders lack TT skills so they may only hope to surprise the main GC contenders with an attack in one of the stages.
With almost the same team as last season AnnoDomini has high hopes of finishing in top9 of the GC. Their captain Julian Cichocki feels good on Belgian soil as 9 out of 12 results in his career were achieved in Belgium. He skipped the Roubaix Classic and concentrated only on preparation for this tour. It will be hard to repeat the 3rd place from last season, but a 5th place should be within his reach.
Marjan Mrak came out of nowhere and won the YC classification last season by a big margin. He will now want to fight for the top 9 in GC. He has only one rider to help him on the cobbled sections, which may prove not enough, but on the other hand this rider is Thibaut Camus, a French veteran who knows this tour very well.
The Romanian champion Dinica Beselea was purchased by ABK 3 seasons ago and helped the team to come back to top division. Now he has an opportunity to race against the best cobblers in the world and he wants to show them how good he is. He will have some very strong team mates and is one of the favorites for the podium in Antwerpen.
Another team which will focus mainly on the final stage. They have Maximino Alonca as their captain, a fairly unknown 29yo sprinter with only 2 results so far. Riding usually in the shade of Otto Skoglund he will surely like to take this opportunity that Otto is not here and show his talents.
One more team which does not have any cobblers in their squad. They wanted to be part of the fun in Belgium and signed up. With only one sprinter and a few water carriers they will not be a major factor on any of the stages, but you cant forbid them to have some fun, can you?
Sprinters. More and more sprinters. This time English, not Italian for a change. The only cobbler in the team is a junior rider Gresham Walford. With only 12 races in his professional carreer he will probably become the youngest and least experienced team captain in a top div tour ever. Hmmm…
Movistar Kelme Team
A true cobble team with a true leader beloved by the locals. Belgian cobble star Jean-Pierre van Bockorst is here again and he wants to finally win this race. He was second last season, he won the YC two seasons ago. If he doesn’t win this time, half of Belgian population will go bankrupt, cause they have bet millions on him!
Jonas Pro Cycling
Gale Reason is like wine – the older, the better. But some wines taste like vinegar if you keep them too long. Is this the case of the 36yo Bermudan cobbler, who won last two editions of this tour? There is no other way but to open the bottle and find out…
Second Polish team in the tour will focus on the opening TT stage. They have 6 strong time trailers, but as we already said, the competition is fierce and small details may decide on the final outcome.
Swedish team is the first wild card team. 10th place in Roubaix Classic for Samuel Gothe this season was enough for the race organizers to invite the team to the tour. They were here also last season and enjoyed the atmosphere so hopefully they will enjoy it again this time around. Results wise they will focus on particular stages, as their captain lacks TT skills.
Second team invited by the race organizers is the best Slovenian team KK Fajfa. Their leader will be young junior rider Stane Jogan. He looks like a decent candidate for the YC, but unfortunately his team can hardly support him on the cobbles so he will have to follow the wheels of other riders in the tougher sections.