As we get set to begin the Spring Classics with Saturdayâ€™s running of the 102nd Milan-San Remo, itâ€™s the perfect time examine some of the important questions facing the major riders and teams during this yearâ€™s spring campaign. As each question is posted, feel free to share your opinions, insights, and predictions as commentsâ€”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-Farmfritesâ€”a Dutch team run by Cees Priemâ€”enjoyed much success at the cobbled classics thanks to a core of Belgian* riders led by Peter Van Petegem. This year, Vacansoleil-DCMâ€”another Dutch squad with classic aspirationsâ€”looks to emulate the feats of its legendary precursor, led as well by a talented Belgian contingentâ€”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, Devolderâ€™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 nationâ€™s most prized event. But a disappointing 2010 campaign has since left many wondering if Devolder was just a product of Quick-Stepâ€™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 2010â€”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 Roubaixâ€”assuming he and Devolder can co-exist, of course. And de Gendt? Well, after what we witnessed in Paris-Nice, anythingâ€™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 successorsâ€”but will they?
Share your comments below.
*For the sake of argument, letâ€™s consider the Flanders-residing, German-born Andreas Klier at least partly Belgian.