I wonder how badly Vacansoleil regrets Thomas DeGendtâ€™s decision to schedule his wedding during this yearâ€™s Tour de France after his incredible stage victory and third-place finish in the Giro dâ€™Italia. But life must go on and Vacansoliel has a Tour de France to completeâ€”with or without the teamâ€™s exciting Belgian star.
Like several teams in this yearâ€™s race without a true GC candidate or field sprinter, Vacansoleil has simply picked the nine best riders available at this point in the season.
Johnny Hoogerland is the teamâ€™s spiritual leader. An aggressive, but somewhat foolhardy rider, the Ductchman might benefit from learning to choose his battles a bit more wisely. An early candidate to take the polka dot jersey as King of the Mountains, Hoogerlandâ€™s an ideal candidate for a day-long breakaway during Stage 8, a stage with seven categorized climbs with enough KOM points on offer to give someone a hefty lead before the race hits the Alps.
On flatter days, Vacansoleil will leave the sprinting up to Kenny Van Hummel and Kris Boeckmans. Van Hummel has raced the Tour beforeâ€”unfortunately, he left his biggest mark while â€œcontendingâ€ for the Lanterne Rouge in 2009 (at least before abandoning during Stage 17).
Lieuwe Westra won a stage and finished second overall to Bradley Wiggins at Paris-Nice earlier this year. While Rob Ruijgh returns to the Tour de France hoping to improve upon his 20th-place finish last year.
By the time itâ€™s all said and done, the success of Vacansoleilâ€™s Tour will hinge upon the teamâ€™s ability to cover breakways and hopefully win a stage or two. And if they canâ€™t DeGendt will certainly be back next year.
Man of the Hour
All of them. On a team with no clear captain, each rider will get his chance to be the Man of the Hour for Vacansoleil, while a stage win would make him the â€œMan of the Raceâ€.
Wout Poels finished 17th in last yearâ€™s Tour of Spain including three top-5 results on summit finishes. Letâ€™s see if he can duplicate that success at the Tour.
On the Hot Seat
Even though he failed to make Vacansolielâ€™s Tour roster, is it unfair of me mention Stijn Devolder?
Gustav Erik Larsson is a time trial specialist and bears mentioning in a Tour de France with three of them. Larsson won the Prologue at Paris-Nice earlier this season and is a dark horse candidate to take the first yellow jersey of the race this Saturday in Liege.
Follow Whit on Twitter at @whityost