Lotto-Soudal had one of the best seasons in the team's history, mostly thanks to Greipel. But he's not all the Belgian outfit has to offer. With young riders coming through, it's really looking up for the Belgian outfit.
What We Thought Coming In
Gallopin was expected to do well in the classics and short stage races, Debusschere was supposed to get better at...whatever he was doing, Wellens was not unfairly forecasted to become better at his own brand of Ardennes-gurning, and Van den Broeck was predicted to get some top ten positions in stage races. Adam Hansen was going to drink some beer in the gruppetto in his twenty-gazillionth Grand Tour in a row, Jelle Vanendert's moustache was expected to appear on television in late April. Some of us expected things from their neo-pro's, Louis Vervaeke and Tiesj Benoot, who I'll be getting back to later.
What We Got
We got to watch them get forty wins. That's pretty impressive, only Etixx-Quickstep and Sky got more, and they have far deeper rosters, and a much bigger budget. It was of course Greipel who netted the bulk of them, taking sixteen, his most since 2012, and by far his most impressive haul ever, with stages in two Grand Tours. He started with Stage 6 of the Giro, and after not finishing the Italian race, he went on to be the dominant sprinter of the Tour de France, scoring stages 2, 5, and 15 before sprinting to victory on the Champs-Élysées. The question is, is Greipel becoming better than all the other sprinters, or is he just staying where he is as the others fall back? There's a case to be made for both, especially considering that Kittel was out of action for the majority of the season, and Cavendish seemed to be below par. However, I do think there has been a big improvement from Greipel; not only was he holding his own in harder races and making a fist at the classics season, he was far better at positioning himself, especially in tricky conditions, this year than last. In last year's Tour, you could see him fall back going into sprint finishes, but his confidence really jumped this year. Gallopin had a consistent season with two wins, but also twenty-three top tens out of sixty-seven races, over a third, which is rather impressive, his most impressive performance coming in Paris-Nice, where he attacked on the wet mountains on the rainy stage 6, before soloing to victory into Nice. Adam Hansen did exactly as expected, right down to the beer and the gutsy breakaways. Jurgen Van den Broeck didn't get a single stage race top ten, but a twelfth in the Giro wasn't disgraceful. He got his second pro win in the Belgian TT championships but for a guy with two Tour top fives, one really has to wonder where he left his mojo.
(Bryn Lennon, Getty Images)
Top Three Highlights
- Greipel's tour: For the first time in the German's career, he was the dominant sprinter of a Grand Tour. From Stage 2 to Stage 21 he was just ahead of the rest, only losing out on one sprint stage.
- Emergence of Benoot: Tiesj Benoot had a dream neo season, taking an almost unbelievable fifth in De Ronde.
- August: Bart de Clercq came second in the Tour de Pologne and Tim Wellens defended his title in cycling's first Grand Tour, ENECO.
Benoot rode worlds for Belgium. (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images)
Bottom Three Lowlights
- Boeckmans' injury: Kris Boeckmans was having a good season before stage 8 of the Vuelta a Espana, where he went for his bidon and flipped over the handlebars. He required hours of surgery, and lost 15 kilogrammes, but is now on the road to recovery.
- Jurgen Van den Broeck, MIA: Or so you might have thought. He stayed away from the Tour de France in order to try and go for the Giro, but another anonymous season followed. Even a decent TT putting him in the top five of the Giro with a week to go couldn't get him back on track, he lost seven places in the last seven stages. He's on the way to Katusha.
- Vanendert nowhere in Ardennes: You can usually count on the mustachioed Belgian to turn up in the Ardennes, but he was a no show this year.
Comings and Goings for 2016
Tomasz Marczynski, Rafael Valls and Dwars victor Jelle Wallays in, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Dennis Vanendert, Vegard Breen, Kenny Dehaes and Boris Vallee out. Nothing too major, Valls will add to the team's climbing talent, and might be expected to be seen in a few breakaways.
What to Expect Next
More and more improvement. Benoot and Wellens are only going to get better for the Ardennes and the classics, while Valls will provide excellent support in the mountains. It's unlikely they'll be challenging for Grand Tours anytime soon, but the sprints are looking up for Lotto. Is Greipel able to repeat this year's performance against a strong Kittel and a Cavendish on a new team, reunited with Best Mate Bernie? I think we're set for a good sprinting battle next year, it should be reasonably even.
( LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)