2011 Team-By-Team Season Preview: Vacansoleil-DCM

Fotoreporter Sirotti

Each year, Pavé previews the upcoming road season with a countdown of the top-20 teams in the sport—we started last week with 20, 19, 18, and 17.  Today we pick things up with #16.

#15 – Vacansoleil-DCM

It’s always ways a risky proposition when teams try and sign their way into the sport’s biggest races. In the last six months, Vacansoleil’s taken more than a few gambles in its bid to attain ProTeam status for 2011.  Now they’re hoping these signings haven’t caused more harm good.

With the addition of the tempestuous-yet-talented Stijn Devolder, Vacansoleil has found itself a bookend for Bjorn Leukemans, giving the team a terrific combo for the cobbled classics.  Devolder won the Ronde for Quick Step in 2008 and 2009, and the reigning Belgian Champ hopes to find similar form after a disastrous spring last year.  He’s already been seen training on the course of the new and improved Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a sign that Devolder might not wait for April to take his first cobbled victory.

As for Leukemans, his progression in the cobbled classics has gone largely unnoticed outside of Belgium (although I know of one site that’s been singing his praises for years now).  Leukemans reminds me of Peter Van Petegem in the mid-1990’s: near the top, but not yet bubbling over.  Van Petegem’s breakthrough came when he won Het Volk in 1997 and 1998—those wins gave him the confidence to take the next step in the cobbled Monuments (he won the Ronde twice and Roubaix once).  Leukemans is at a similar stage in his career—he just needs that one big win to set him on his way.  Unlike Devolder though, Leukemans has taken a more competitive approach to his preseason, racing his way into shape in France.

It will be interesting to see what happens when these two riders come together.  Vacansoleil had some problems last year working together when Riccardo Ricco came on board; will these two headstrong Belgians prove able to race cohesively in their nation’s biggest races?

As for the rest, the imminent loss of Riccardo Ricco will certainly hurt the team’s chances for success after April, forcing the team to aggressively search for breakaway wins here and there in the Tour de France (like most French teams).  Borut Bozic is always a threat for a sprint win or two, but it’s hard to see him competing with the likes of Cavendish and Farrar come July. Vacansoleil will likely look to rouleurs such as Johnny Hoogerland, Marco Marcato, and Romain Feillu for stage wins at the Tour—Feillu has come close before and would certainly have the home crowd on his side.

Man of the Hour: Leukemans was the second-most impressive rider at last year’s Paris-Roubaix.  I’ll never forget his visible frustration (7:01) at not being able to hold Cancellara’s wheel (and the moto getting in his way).  If the team plays it’s cards right, Devolder’s presence could prevent teams from marking Leukemans out of races, perhaps giving him a bit more freedom to take his first major victory.

On the Hot Seat: First Riccardo Ricco, then Ezequiel Mosquera, now Ricco—again.  If these riders don’t somehow see their way through recent doping allegations (and the resulting failed kidneys), Vacansoleil will be left high and dry by summertime.  After all, cobbled classic victories only get a team so far—right, Quick Step?

Up-and-Comer: Remember last year’s classics when those pesky Topsport Vlaanderen riders kept finding their way into breakaways?  Well, Thomas De Gendt was one of them—he finished second to Sebastian Rosseler in the Brabantsepijl (and fifth in the Tour of Belgium), a result that likely earned him his spot with Vacansoleil.

Best Pick-Up: I’m not sure which side needed the deal more, but Ridley likely has much more resources to offer Vacansoleil than Batavus.  (Besides, Batavus is a brand associated more with commuters than racers.)  As for Ridley, they needed to do something after parting ways with Katusha—putting bikes under Leukemans and Devolder gives the brand some domestic notoriety.

Biggest Loss: With both Ricco and Mosquera looking likely to miss this year’s Grand Tours (at least), Brice Feillu would have been Vacansoleil’s lone GC hope at the Tour de France.  It’s too bad Vacansoleil couldn’t convince him to stay.

And that’s it for #15—look for #14 tomorrow.

Share your comments below.

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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5 Responses to 2011 Team-By-Team Season Preview: Vacansoleil-DCM

  1. beeline says:

    I am curious about Stijn Devolder's tempestuousness. Can someone enlighten me?

    • Whit says:

      I'll do my best, Beeline. To make a long story short, Devolder strikes me from time to time as being a bit moody-somewhat of a diva. His riding is also incredibly inconsistent. He puts in performances like he did in 2008 or 2009, but then does almost nothing for the rest of the season. Finally, he tends to take too many of his complaints with team or federation decisions to the press.

      That said, he's one of my favorite riders–which makes some of his antics all the more hard to take. I'm hopeful he;ll put in another good spring–a win in the Omloop would be a good start.

      Thanks for reading–and your question.


  2. Scott says:

    As usual, another great write up…well done. I totally agree with your comments about Devolder. I was actually watching the 2009 RVV the other night, and although I've seen it many times before, am still somewhat surprised that he took the win. Granted, he showed himself to be strong, but also did a ton of pace making and I really thought his his legs would give out on him before the finish. Would be nice to see him show more consistency and focus…an interesting move for him to Vaconsoleil…I will probably end up eating my words but I don't see him having the same success that he had on QS now that he has a weaker supporting cast.

    PS. Was I the only one who would have preferred to see Haussler top of the podium in 2009? Someone please tell him to lay off the sauce, rehab that knee back to100% strength,and kick some ass in the Classics this year (off to a good start in Qatar of course!).

  3. michael says:

    I am not sold on Devolder. He was on the perfect team, with the perfect circumstances on the road on both his wins to take it. Had he been in any other situation I don't see him winning those races. I think he is WAAAAAAAAAAAAY overvalued. I guess we'll see this spring. As for Ricco, just a sad state affairs. I won't rail on him, he is a fellow human who unfortunately is facing some potentially difficult dependency issues that he needs to resolve in order to move on with his life. He is in dire need of an intervention.

    Finally to Feillu – shame on him for jumping ship. I don't buy the whole "we didn't make the tour last year so I have no intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to actually do anything other than show up". I (and many others) would KILL to have an engine like his. Too bad he didn't seem to care enough to bother using it when he didn't get the toy he wanted for X-mas. You should not be allowed to waste "the gift" . Good riddance to him I say, I hope he flounders as a domestique at Leotard…er Leopard-tReK…er TrEk…er trek….er how are we supposed to write that ;)

  4. jurgen says:

    i just want to add to devolder that he's a man that at least takes away pressure for Leukemans. Leukemans can drive in his shadow and jump out to win. then there is Hoogerland an De Gendt. expecting biggest things off De Gendt. seen the way he is racing? in the tour of britain 2009, etoile de bessege, and recent tour down under. its incredible what he can get out of his legs. speaking off Xmas presents. now they are racing without the microfones, attackers could last more and more till the finish.

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