Questions for the Classics – Vacansoleil?

Fotoreporter Sirotti

As we get set to begin the Spring Classics with Saturday’s running of the 102nd Milan-San Remo, it’s the perfect time examine some of the important questions facing the major riders and teams during this year’s spring campaign. As each question is posted, feel free to share your opinions, insights, and predictions as comments—your commentary and spirited dialogue is always appreciated.

1. Is Vacansoleil-DCM the second coming of TVM-Farm Frites or Bankgiroloterij-Batavus?

From 1997 to 2000, TVM-Farmfrites—a Dutch team run by Cees Priem—enjoyed much success at the cobbled classics thanks to a core of Belgian* riders led by Peter Van Petegem. This year, Vacansoleil-DCM—another Dutch squad with classic aspirations—looks to emulate the feats of its legendary precursor, led as well by a talented Belgian contingent—Stijn Devolder, Bjorn Leukemans, and Paris-Nice revelation Thomas de Gendt.

Of the three, Devolder is the most frustrating, Leukemans the most unassuming, and de Gendt the most exciting. The current Belgian Champion, Devolder’s back-to-back wins in the 2008 and 2009 Tour of Flanders had many thinking Belgium had found a champion who would rival the ever-popular Tom Boonen in the nation’s most prized event. But a disappointing 2010 campaign has since left many wondering if Devolder was just a product of Quick-Step’s system, a rider given a chance to shine while racing in the shadow of his more heavily-marked teammate.

As for Leukemans, he rode an impressive cobbled campaign for Vacansoleil in 2010—with largely no support. Now he hopes the arrival of Devolder and de Gendt will give him the help he needs to reach the top step of the podium in either Flanders or Roubaix—assuming he and Devolder can co-exist, of course. And de Gendt? Well, after what we witnessed in Paris-Nice, anything’s possible for this talented star-in-the-making. While a Monument win might elude the 24-year-old, a win in Dwars door Vlaanderen, the E3 Prijs, or Ghent-Wevelgem could be right up his alley. (And let’s not forget his performance in the Ardennes last season either.)

In the end, Vacansoleil certainly has the firepower to equal the achievements of its french-fried successors—but will they?

Share your comments below.

*For the sake of argument, let’s consider the Flanders-residing, German-born Andreas Klier at least partly Belgian.

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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4 Responses to Questions for the Classics – Vacansoleil?

  1. Aguirre says:

    I certainly hope so, after a great 2010 spring campaign and the drama of their non Tour invite they became my underdog fan favorite team. Again more drama with the signing of Ricco and his seemingly inevitable decline. I'm glad that the team has once again proven themselves with some strong early season performances hopefully extracting themselves from the negative media milieu surrounding Ricco and Mosquera. I feel the Ricco signing was a case of a well intentioned team looking to ensure a Tour bid in 2011. Devolder seems so streaky, hope he's hot for the classics and we should be in for some fireworks in what looks to be very competitive classics campaign.

  2. Pappy says:

    Can someone explain something else to me – the mystery of Katusha's minimal success. On paper they look quite strong, but racked up only 13 wins last year as a team. As Steegmans and Robbie Mac never won much with them, we can be assured their no sprinter's team. Pozzato seems to lack the winning instincts and Kolobnev saves himself for Worlds (or something). Is Tchmil the problem? Does he not know how to make these guys coalesce? Or is it the riders themselves… They've obviously got the talent as they took stage wins in all grand tours.

    • Whit says:

      Great point, Pappy! Aside from Rodriguez, they really haven't done much. The pressure will be on Pozzato and Kolobnev this year–especially in the classics if Rodriguez times is first peak for the Giro. The young sprinter Galimzyanov's very talented–but he's not quite ready to contend for wins in bigger races. Could Tchmil be the reason? Possibly… Here's a team that could benefit from someone like Henrik Redant, in my humble opinion…

      As always, thanks for the great comments!


  3. Big Mikey says:

    If nothing else, Vacansoleil gets my vote for most exciting team of 2011 thus far. They've made better every race they've participated in, and that's more than can be said for most every other team out there.

    That said, when was the last time a rider from a non-major team won a monument? Not sure why this is, but there appears to be something to it.

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