Team Focus 2019: Lotto Soudal

Nationality: Belgian

2018 WT Ranking: 15th

2018 WT major wins: Strade Bianche, Tiesj Benoot; Stage 4 Il Giro, Tim Wellens; Stage 18 La Vuelta, Jelle Wallays

Riders to watch in 2019: Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens, Caleb Ewan, Bjorg Lambrecht, Thomas ‘Breakaway’ De Gendt

Notable for: Being the favoured team of KONM; sprint-mastery; TDG’s baroudeuring; Benooooooottt


Over time, you’ll notice that this blog is horribly biased in favour of Belgian classics teams and riders. KONM’s best boys in that regard are Lotto Soudal, a long-running team led by retired Belgian Classics-Monster™ Marc Sergeant and headlined (in KONM’s eyes, at least) by current Belgian Classics-Monsters™ Tiesj Benoot and (kind of) Tim Wellens.

There’s also no little excitement in KONM Towers ahead of the arrival of Aussie top-tube acrobat Caleb Ewan, who we reckon will give Lotto a cutting edge that the departing André Greipel wasn’t going to provide for much longer. The Gorilla has been an outstanding sprinter for this team since turning up in Belgium in 2011, but age catches up with everyone – even muscle-bound superhumans like Greipel.

Of course, it wasn’t just older bones slowing down the German – internal power-shifting centred around new General Manager Paul De Geyter is said to have affected not just Greipel, but the squad as a whole. “The consensus within Lotto’s ranks was that, from the moment De Geyter came in, the atmosphere changed,” wrote Daniel Benson for Cycling News.

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Whatever else went on behind-the-scenes, it’s evident De Geyter was keen to move on some of the team’s older members, and wasted no time in doing so. Understandable, perhaps, but the riders’ complaints appear to stem from his purported ruthlessness and focus on “business”, which made a severe change from the “family atmosphere” that Sergeant fostered prior to De Geyter’s arrival.

It’s unclear as to exactly what happened, but it looks as if De Geyter may have wrapped up a deal for Ewan, or at least been in touch about one, reportedly well in advance of the Tour de France. Certainly, Greipel erupted publicly in June, in the middle of the Suisse, calling PDG “a liar”.

KONM lost a great deal of hope for Lotto’s season after that. The Tour was a shambles, but there were wins and stages to be had elsewhere – notably, Greipel took two stages at the Tour of Britain, pipping Ewan to the line in one. Wallays’ and De Gendt’s exploits at the Vuelta also put a bit of a gloss on things, but there’s no getting away from it: this was not a great year.*

*Honourable mention at this point to Jens Keukeleire’s Belgium Tour GC and Tim Wellens’ GC wins in Andalucia and Wallonia.

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All of this was very upsetting for poor old KONM, but now the dust has settled Lotto look a little fresher with Ewan entering the leadership equation. Unfortunately for the former Mitchelton-Scott man, he won’t be linking up with the man who brought him to Belgium: De Geyter “parted ways” with Lotto in October. Short and sweet, eh Paul?

As for Greipel, he’ll be riding for Pro-Conti team Fortuneo-Samsic this coming season. The sight of his ridiculously gigantic frame ploughing through the field in non-Lotto colours will bring mixed feelings for KONM, but this is a blog that has only good vibes for the Gorilla.

Greipel is a legend, and surely deserved to go out on better terms, but Ewan is a hugely exciting talent. It wasn’t pleasant to watch things unfold in 2018, but it’s hard not to be optimistic about what the new sprint-leader will bring in 2019. He is rapid, and at 24 his ceiling is not yet in sight.

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KONM is also very hopeful for Benoot and Wellens. The latter won races fairly consistently last season despite the unrest in the camp. It’s not a leap of faith to suggest there’s far more to come from Wellens. Can he compete in bigger stage races, or perhaps even (at a stretch) a monument like Liège-Bastogne-Liège? KONM thinks so.

Meanwhile, KONM will go to its grave rattling on about how Benoot has what it takes to win a really big race. The Strade Bianche was a huge step forward in that regard, but I mean a really big race. This is a man who finished 5th in the Ronde at the age of 21, so there’s nothing that will convince KONM Benoot hasn’t got a monument in him.

Whatever happens, [saccharine Positive Mental Attitude voice] KONM just hopes 2019 proves to be a more joyful experience for everyone at Lotto.

Featured photo: Günter Seggebäing/Commons, edited by KONM

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Writer featured in/on FourFourTwo, Guardian, The Set Pieces, Sports Illustrated, R&K, TFT, Nightwatchman, World Soccer, Pickles, Cricketworld and more. Twitter: @HeavyFirstTouch

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