From the Netherlands – also known as Holland – come people who call themselves Dutch. Why they can’t agree on consistent nomenclature, I do not know. The country can agree, however, that it prefers its top riders close to home. Some are sent south, to Belgian team Quick Step/Innergetic, and some a bit further to the Luxembourg outfit of Leopard-Trek, and others are kept in the two in-house Pro teams, Rabobank and Vacansoleil.
Rabobank has impressed this season – we gave them Team of the Month honors in February for their diverse victories – sprints, time trials, February mountains, and general classifications in the early season. Can they see similar success this summer?
Foremost amongst them is Rabobank’s Robert Gesink. He’s had a strong year thus far, having come out of the corner swinging with a win in the Tour of Oman that boasted both a Time Trial and a mountaintop victory. Rabobank brings a team that’s quite dedicated to Gesink’s success – a squad full of roleurs and climbers who can keep Gesink protected without whittling down their manpower by eyeing the occasional sprint victory. Rather, there are a few of the orange-clad Dutchmen who might manage to work their way into a day-long break that, with this Tour’s challenging, attacker-friendly parcours, might stay away. I’d pick cyclocross champion and impressive time trialist Lars Boom to be the best bet for a stage win from a break, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Maarten Tjallingii put in an impressive performance. He finished a surprise 3rd place in this year’s Paris-Roubaix and may be very motivated to turn his early season triumph into ongoing glory. Lastly, Laurens ten Dam and Bauke Mollema will be responsible for sticking with Gesink in the mountains. If Rabobank wants Gesink to improve upon his 6th place in the 2010 Tour, ten Dam will have to be on his game.
Rabobank looks primed for success – can we say the same for the other Dutch team in the Tour, Vacansoleil-DCM? 2011 is Vacansoleil’s first year as a ProTour team – it’s their first shot at the Tour de France. They’ve certainly seen some noteworthy success throughout their short lifespan, but they’re geared toward success in one-day races. Riding their first Tour, look for them to hunt stages. Johnny Hoogerland is their best Dutch asset, but they may see more success from their Belgian rider Thomas de Gendt, who’s had a breakout season with a cluster of impressive, audacious wins.
Man of the Hour: Lars Boom. He’s a cyclocross sensation with time trialing prowess and classics potential, and the biggest Dutch star in the race.
On the Hot Seat: Rabobank’s placing all their chips on Robert Gesink this year. Can he improve on 2010′s performance?
Young Up and Comer: Vacansoleil-DCM has attained ProTour status and gets its shot at the Tour de France.