In the endless war between Lotto and Quick Step, dating back more than a decade, the former may have just taken a large step forward which could see Lotto gaining the upper hand on Boonen, Lefevre and co. Today, Belgian internet provider Telenet announced a sponsorship of the Lotto-Belisol team, starting with one year of funds and including an option for two more.
If this turns into a durable relationship, Lotto will have at the very least closed the budget gap that, by some published accounts, existed through this past season. I have seen Lotto quoted at €10 million for 2012, compared to €13.5 for OPQS, so with Q8 leaving the latter and a €4 billion media giant joining the former, well, that has to tip the scales back the other way. The available press releases neglect to say how much the Telenet sponsorship is for, exactly, so the exact budget numbers remain elusive.
With Mark Cavendish joining OPQS, the rivalry between the nation's top two teams should be as healthy as ever. Andre Greipel had a fantastic season for Lotto-Belisol, knocking OPQS off the sports pages for nearly the entire Tour de France. Following Tom Boonen's historic spring campaign, L-B seemed decidedly second-fiddle, particularly on the heels of Omega Pharma's split from the team and merger with Quick Step. If OPQS fans were laughing at their intra-country rivals, they're not laughing now.
Stay tuned for our in-depth off-season team capsules, starting next week...
Oh, two other Flanders notes. The Ronde van Vlaanderen sportif is limiting riders to 16,000 participants from now on, because there's nothing about de Ronde they can't make less fan-friendly these days. That number would not have excluded anyone from the 2012 event, but would have left several thousand riders off the road in previous years, when the old course drew crowds in the 20,000-30,000 range. If you're planning on riding, don't wait too long to sign up. Also, the Omloop announced its course the other day. There are the usual tinkerings happening, but we will examine those more closely in February.