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Giro Teams: Lotto
By Staff
Date: 5/6/2005
Giro Teams: Lotto

By Jan Janssens

The Giro has been kind to the Lotto squad in the last few years, with some nice stage wins and a few days of Maglia Rosa with Rik Verbrugghe, who now is a part of that other Belgian ProTour team, Quickstep. Theyíre looking to continue that run with a team that has been pretty much built around the Flemish Ozzie: Robbie Mighty Mac McEwen.

Spring was disastrous for McEwen, who had to cancel for a whole host of races that suited his skills such as Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem and the Scheldeprijs because of a recurring flu. So instead he built up for the Giro in which he hopes to make up for his spring by sticking it to Petacchi a few times. Itís hard to say anything definite about his form as McEwen hasnít raced much in the last few weeks, but a recent stage win in the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt makes us hope for the best. And besides, sprinters (and especially this one) are quick to get in shape anyway.

So who did the lottery boys bring to flank him on his holy quest: beating Petacchi? Leading the pack is an experienced first knight, Tom Steels. Itís been over 4 years since Steels won a stage in a big stage race, in fact, itís been almost that long since he entered a big stage race! After a rough period in his life in which he suffered from a bout of mononucleosis and had to devote a lot of time to the well-being of his handicapped daughter Lobke, he makes a comeback to the big times. After seeing the limited choice of races at Landbouwkrediet Steels made sure that he was part of a ProTour team, bringing the Belgian champion-jersey with him to Lotto. Question remains how the interaction between these two sprinters will be: McEwen should be team leader, so Steels could be a luxury lead-out for himÖif it werenít for the fact that the Fassa train will dominate the sprint anyway.

No, my guess would be that Lotto will try to create confusion by launching two sprinters at once, or launch one and have the other sit on Petacchiís wheel, all in order to disjoint the Fassa train. In any case, what it lacks for in the Petacchi-field, Lotto makes up for in a surplus of tactical choices.

Another seasoned knight to come to arms from a division II team is veteran Henk Vogels: a less prestigious past than Steels in terms of sprint victories, but certainly capable of holding his own when it comes down to it. Vogels switched Navigators for Lotto this season, at the explicit request of McEwen. Closing the Australian connection within this line-up is McEwenís personal lieutenant and squire, Nick Gates. If youíll see someone handing out wheels, bikes, water bottles or hand slings to his master during the Giro, itís this guy.

And last but certainly not least: old faithful Dutchie Aart Vierhouten, soldier of many wars and personal pilot for the last kilometres for anyone Lotto decides to line up for a sprint. Vierhouten might just be the most important part of the sprinting division of this team, even if McEwen can more than handle himself on his own if he has to. But in a sprint itís about every ounce of strength you can save, and the less he has to push and pull, the better.

The other part of the team consists mostly of climbing buccaneers, with 4 Belgians and 1 Colombian ready to show themselves when the road starts to go up. What on earth is a Colombian doing on a Belgian squad, I can hear you say. Well, Mauricio Ardila (full name Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano - Iíll buy you a beer if you knew that by heart) has been in Belgium for a few years already at the Marlux (02í-03í) and Chocolade Jacques (04í) teams, so donít worry, he wonít rain to death. After 2 stage wins at the Tour of Britain last year, among others, he was offered a contract by Lotto. And for good reason it seems, with a stage win in Niedersachsen Rundfarht and a decent Tour de Romandie heís shown that heís ready for his first big stage race. Heís supposed to be the teamís hope for the final ranking, but I honestly donít see him finishing too high up in his first Giro.

Other newbies when it comes to big stage races are Belgians Wim Van Huffel and BjŲrn Leukemans. These guys arenít really supposed to do anything but to learn and attack when the opportunity arises. Theyíve already proven that they can deal with the climbing in other races, question is: how will they cope with the height? Look out for them in early attacks in the hillier stages. It might be good to mention that Leukemans, for someone who likes to climb, also has a more than decent sprint.

Last one up is the only Lotto rider that isnít supposed to prepare the sprint that has any experience in big stage races: Christophe Brandt. Fired by this very Lotto team after he tested positive on methadone in a not-so-distant past, but re-hired as soon as his name was cleared, Brandt is still relatively young (27) and a good climber, but also a rather dull rider. Not counting the methadone case of course, but I donít think thatís the sort of excitement any of us were looking for. Anyway, dull because he very rarely attacks, but tries to hang on in the mountains instead, getting lots of top 20 places, but wellÖluckily, this season has seen a more active Brandt, we can only hope that heíll continue this style of riding and tries his hand at stage wins, rather than shooting for that elusive 14th place.

All in all, itís particularly Lottoís impressive sprinter compartment that makes this team an attractive one to watch in this Giro. Hopefully the other, more climbing-oriented part of the team will take away some of the pressure on their colleagues so that they wonít be overstressed when it comes to trying to beat Petacchi. Itíll be interesting to see how Van Huffel, Ardila and Leukemans will digest their first big tour, and how the new and improved Lotto sprinting department will put theory into practice.

Davitamon-Lotto for the Giro

Robbie McEwen (Aus)
Tom Steels (Bel)
Henk Vogels (Aus)
Nick Gates (Aus)
Aart Vierhouten (Hol)
Mauricio Ardila (Col)
Wim Van Huffel (Bel)
BjŲrn Leukemans (Bel)
Cristophe Brandt (Bel)

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