After Cadel Evans claimed fourth at the 2006 Tour de France there was plenty of criticism, within Australian quarters at least, of his team’s lack of willingness to build the team solely around his yellow jersey ambitions.
Much of this criticism stemmed from a belief that being Australian was working against Evans in an old fashioned Belgian team. A look at the hedging their bets approach of Omega Pharma-Lotto at this year’s Tour can put this belief to rest.
Spearheading Omega Pharma-Lotto’s tilt at the general classification this year is Jurgen Van den Broeck.
Following his fifth place finish last year he is now, at 28 and in the prime of his career, among the contenders for a podium finish. Something no one from cycling mad Belgium has achieved since Lucien van Impe in 1981.
Working against Van den Broeck is the structure of the team. It will be contending for Tour success on a number of fronts, just as it did with the double headed Evans-McEwen approach when they were both at the team.
With Philippe Gilbert on the team they have one of the favourites for the first yellow jersey.
Gilbert’s 2011 form should result in the team doing a fair portion of work on the first stage, with its uphill finish, to give him every chance of stage honours and the race lead.
Unfortunately for Van den Broeck this will cost the team valuable energy heading into the stage two team time trial, potentially costing him time he can’t afford to lose.
The race then provides a few opportunities for the sprinters where Andre Greipel, the third prong in the Omega Pharma-Lotto attack, will be the protected man.
Greipel is making his Tour debut and will be among the challengers to Mark Cavendish when the sprinters rub elbows. But he won’t be able to beat Cavendish on his own. He’ll need a few guys around him.
So before the race has even reached the mountains many of Van den Broeck’s teammates could be on their knees after doing the job early for Gilbert and Greipel. Come crunch time Belgium’s best hope of a podium finish in 30-years will be left to fend for himself.
I understand a risk averse two-pronged approach. And as Gilbert has been the rider of the season, so far, any team would put plenty of energy into his Tour aspirations.
Admittedly it’s hard to criticise a team that has had so much success this season but after finishing fifth a year ago Van den Broeck deserves a little more support. There is not one other noted climber on the team.
The lack of support for van den Broeck shows that the decisions made in Cadel’s time at the team had nothing to do with nationality. The general classification at the Tour de France simply isn’t the burning priority for Omega-Pharma Lotto.
Best of luck Jurgen.