WorldTeam Lotto Soudal with nineteen riders at the start of the Belgian championships
This Sunday, Lotto Soudal will be at the start of the Belgian road race championships in Waregem with no fewer than nineteen riders. Four Lotto Soudal Ladies – including 2019 champion Jesse Vandenbulcke – will battle for the Belgian title on a 122-kilometre course. The men cover over 220 kilometres, with fifteen Lotto Soudal WorldTeam riders at the start. Sports directors Annelies Dom (Lotto Soudal Ladies) and Kurt Van de Wouwer (WorldTeam) preview the battle for the tricolour jersey.
“The course is not very hard”, begins Annelies Dom. “But I am happy that the distance is well over 100 kilometres, but of course this isn’t as much as in WorldTour races. It will be hard to get rid off riders like Jolien D’hoore (SD Worx), Valerie Demey and Lotte Kopecky (both Liv Racing). As their opponents, we have to try to take advantage of the fact that they will be at the start alone or at least without a team. But that is easier said than done.”
Kurt Van de Wouwer: “In itself, the course is not very difficult, but like always the riders make the race hard. When we get some proper racing, the peloton will definitely break and also the weather conditions can play a part in whether we’ll get a hard race or not. I immediately think of the nationals in Ghent or Antwerp for example, where we had a relatively easy course, but the field completely split to pieces.”
“For Sunday, we have of course indicated some protected riders”, says Kurt Van de Wouwer. “In a bunch sprint, our chances are rather small with for example Tim Merlier or Jasper Philipsen at the start. So we need to dare to make the race hard. It will be important to not get into a position where we need to chase, we need to avoid such scenario. If all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, a national championship can already be decided after an hour of racing. It rarely happens, but if the composition of a front group is just right, it certainly is possible. Many riders can benefit from the tactical game during a Belgian championship.”
“We start with four riders and the role of each four of them is very similar. We don’t have to carry the weight of the race on our shoulders on Sunday, we need to anticipate”, explains Annelies Dom. “Opportunities must be created to send one of our riders up the road and then it’s up to our other riders to protect that breakaway.”
Contrary to the Lotto Soudal Ladies, the WorldTeam will have no less than 15 riders at the start, but Kurt Van de Wouwer also sees disadvantages to the numerical superiority.
“At Lotto Soudal we have 15 men at the start, which in principle should always be an advantage. However, the disadvantage is when you end up in a defensive position, where all eyes are on you to do the chasing. Which is of course logical when you have such numerical advantage at the start. That is why we need to try to avoid such scenario.”
Annelies Dom: “Both Alana Castrique and Lone Meertens are eligible for the U23 title on Sunday. So for them, it will be a race within the race. A good result at a national championship is always nice, but a jersey is always better. If Alana or Lone achieve a nice result in the race, both is possible. Elise Vander Sande sprinted to fourth place last year, when she rode for Keukens Redant and took the title at the club riders. That is a nice example. With Jesse Vandenbulcke, we have the Belgian champion of 2019 in our team. So she knows what it feels like to conquer the elite title.”
Annelies Dom also knows how it feels to be Belgian champion, as she took the tricoulour jersey in Binche, in 2018.
Annelies Dom: “At the nationals, everybody starts to win. And often it is an unpredictable race. Compared to other races, it’s a special field of riders because the foreign competitors aren’t there so you are not racing against complete teams. Also the atmosphere really is unique. When I won the national championships in 2018 and could step onto the podium, it really gave me a kick!”
“It is a cliché, but as a Belgian champion you get the chance to ride an entire year in a unique jersey. As a rider, you’ll carry something like that with you for the rest of your career. Also as a team, it is a huge honour to have the Belgian champion in your team. For Lotto Soudal, a new national title would of course be really nice”, concludes Kurt Van de Wouwer.
Line-up Lotto Soudal Ladies: Alana Castrique, Lone Meertens, Elise Vander Sande and Jesse Vandenbulcke.
Line-up Lotto Soudal WorldTeam: Steff Cras, Jasper De Buyst, Thomas De Gendt, Frederik Frison, Philippe Gilbert, Kobe Goossens, Sébastien Grignard, Sylvain Moniquet, Gerben Thijssen, Tosh Van der Sande, Maxim Van Gils, Harm Vanhoucke, Brent Van Moer, Florian Vermeersch and Viktor Verschaeve.