Belgian based Davitamon Lotto sets big goals. Fellow Belgian team Quick Step are always competing Davitamon Lotto for the most wins in the season, a bit like the Spanish teams who like to compete over the team classifications in the grand tours. But Quick Step has the upper hand with guys like Boonen and Bettini. Davitamon doesn’t really have these kind of stars but still might come close, as they have a few jewels of their own.
First of all Davitamon invests in their future: Nic Ingels (Bodysol-Brustor), Olivier Kaisen (RAGT), Pieter Mertens (Chocolade Jacques) and Nicholas Sanderson will all have to help their big guns to get the success they seek. Christopher Horner is not a young guy. This American came over from Saunier Duval after having a remarkable first ProTour season. But the team have more youngsters: Johan van Summeren, Preben van Hecke and Wim van Huffel. Especially Wim van Huffel is a man to watch. He surprised many, while riding a fabulous Giro d’Italia and Dauphiné Libéré, climbing with the best of them, so it will be interesting so see him develop.
Like all teams they lost some riders as well. Koos Moerenhout and Axel Merckx went to Phonak, also Amorisson and Vierhouten left. Serge Baguet, Belgian champ, left to Quick Step. The team wasn’t happy about that and even tried to get him back, but failed. Ardila negotiated a much better contract with the Dutch Rabo bank team. That didn’t go down well with team boss Marc Sergeant as well. Fortunately a late signing, Josep Juffre Pou, made up for the loss of Ardila.
The aces for the classics are Van Petegem, van Bon and Mattan. All have won many important races like the Tour of Flanders, Tour de France stage, Paris Roubaix and Gent Wevelgem. So a good bet that we’ll find one of these riders up front during those races.
Another bright young star in the team is Leukemans. In 2005 he surprised many in the Amstel Gold race, finishing well in the top 10. He proved to be explosive uphill when needed, which makes him very dangerous.
An even stronger department in the team is their sprint division. Old timer, but still fast, is Tom Steels. He’ll be up front in many flat races, as well as some classics, depending on the team orders. Look out for him in the smaller stage races as well. Also Freddie Rodriguez is in the team. After a not so successful 2005 season, he’ll want to redeem himself and get some victories. Gert Steegmans is developing into a fast finisher as well. More than once, he was the team’s sprinter, instead of Steels, who was the “leadout man”. Last but not least, they’ve got Robbie McEwen. If ever they had a competitor, it must be this Aussie. McEwen is known to be among the top 5 sprinters in the world, right up there with Petacchi and Boonen. So Davitamon can compete with Quick Step on his merit alone.
But there’s more! Fellow Australian Cadel Evans will be their lead man in the Tour de France and probably one of the other two grand tours. This former mountain biker has adapted very well to road racing and will be a contender for the best places in the grand tours and maybe even some other stage races. With a very good support team in Horner, Van Bon, Juffre Pou and Van Huffel and also the ability to do a good time trial, he’ll be the main Davitamon representation in the big races.