2014 Team Previews: Belkin

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Who are the sponsor? Following the withdrawal of Rabobank, there isn’t one – Blanco means, as you might expect, ‘Blank’, as the team uses the money Rabobank was contractually obliged to pay to continue whilst searching for a new sponsor through the Blanco branding.

Nationality: Dutch.

2013 Ranking: 11th.

Past Stars: Michael Boogerd, Denis Menchov, Michael Rasmussen, Robbie McEwen, Oscar Freire, Nick Nuyens, Juan Antonio Flecha, Matti Breschel, Mark Renshaw

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Selected Team Palmares: Stages, Tour de France (Juan Manuel Garate 2009) ) 1st, Tour of California 2012 (Robert Gesink), Stage, Vuelta a Espana (Lars Boom, 2009), Tour of Britain 2011, Tour of Belgium 2009, Eneco Tour 2012 (all Lars Boom), 6th, 2013 Tour de France, Stage, Vuelta a Espana (Bauke Mollema)

Brief Team History: The Rabobank have been around a while, providing a rich and varied diet of talent that has always been bubbling under but never quite managed to get to the top. Their top riders have been Denis Menchov, who got onto the podium of all three Grand Tours wearing the Rabobank colours, winning the Giro in 2009 and the Vuelta in 2007 as he went. Oscar Freire was their other main man, rattling off big wins every so often, such as Milan San Remo, Paris Tours, Ghent Whevelghem and the green jersey to keep everyone happy. However, the fact that a Russian and a Spaniard were the stalwarts of the Dutch team showed that despite the fact they could put eight men on the front at the Amstel Gold Race, the Dutch contingent within the team was slipping. Peter Weening was the last Dutchman to win a Tour stage back in 2005, and despite promise from Gesink, Mollema and co, they haven’t quite stepped up. Half way through 2013, Belkin joined up to support the team and give them a new green kit.

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Last year: The first post Rabobank year was always going to be tricky, and to maximise publicity, Gesink was sent to the Giro whilst Mollema was to go to the Tour. Things got off to a great start when Tom Jelte-Slagter snuck a stage and the overall at the Tour down Under,but aside from Vanmarke’s unexpected 2nd at Paris-Roubaix, it wasn’t a spring to write home about, with most wins taken far afield in what Mark Cavendish would call ‘shit small races.’ Things picked up when Mollema won a stage of the Tour de Suisse though, after Gesink had abandoned the Giro, and Belkin came onboard as well. The Tour went well, With Ten Dam and Mollema occupying the podium spots for come time, until Mollema crashed in the 2nd TT and Ten Dam just got fatigued. Mollema then won a stage of the Vuelta, before the team won all 9 stages of the Tour of Hainan in China to boost their win tally somewhat.

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Transfer dealings: Belkin have lost more than they’ve gained, losing their Tour Down Under winner Tom Jelte-Slagter to Garmin, Mark Renshaw to OPQS and paying off Luis Leon Sanchez due to his connections to a certain Doctor Fuentes. Jonathan Hivert and Barry Markus are the replacements, along with Rabobank academy product Nick Van der Lijke.

Who are the star riders? The Dutch identity of the team is upheld by its three Dutch stars: Grand Tour podium hopefuls Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema, and ex cyclo-cross world champion and cobbles convert Lars Boom. Another ex world champion (from the track) is also Dutch: sprinter Theo Bos, as are younger GC hopes Wilco Kelderman and Steven Kruijswick. The classics squad is powerful, with Martin Tjalingi and Paris-Roubaix runner up Sep Vanmarke. Throw all rounder Laurens Ten Dam and former Ventoux stage winner Juan Manuel Garate into the mix and Belkin have a varied squad with the capability to win any stage they could wish.

Vuelta España - Stage 17

Fashion police: The same as their original Belkin kit, aside from the addition of Bianchi. Supposedly they plan on selling a panel on the jersey to a secondary sponsor depending on where they race, which would be interesting to see, although so far nothing has materialised.

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What are their targets? Mollema and Gesink will want to actually get on the podium of a Grand Tour, and the classics contingent will want to get the Belkin name on a podium somewhere. Bos will hope to take his sprinting to another level, and have a proper shoot at a grand tour stage, probably at the Giro. The Tour of California is also a a target thanks to the sponsor.

What are they likely to achieve? You cant help think that Mollema and Gesink have reached their level, but both are still young and have time to  improve, although their habit of having a bad day suggests they will have problems with podium ambitions. Boom is due a break through though, and Vanmarke will be keen to back him up at the cobbled classics. Expect Kelderman to do a good Grand Tour, whichever one he goes to as well.

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Components: Now that Giant have their own team, Bianchi are back in the World Tour to provide Belkin with an odd two tone Green/celeste frame. Shimano provide the gearing.

The Big Question(s): Can Mollema and Gesink get on a grand Tour podium? Is Vanmarke Belgiums next big classics contender?

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