Lotto Winners

Andre Greipel Lotto Soudal

Several teams are sponsored by lotteries like FDJ and Lotto-Jumbo but in 2015 it’s Lotto-Soudal who’ve been lucky with the draw. Best team of 2015? Of course not but Lotto-Soudal have beaten expectations and their own records and it’s worth noting. The finish 2015 in third place on the team victory ranking.

What’s gone right this year?
Four stage wins in the Tour de France for a start. For years they were perpetual runners-up, a decent team but often seen losing races rather than winning them. It’s been the team’s best ever season with 40 wins, putting them 3rd equal with Katusha on the 2015 team victory rankings. Only in 2011 did they score more UCI points when Philippe Gilbert had his jubilee season.

A lot has been put down to André Greipel missing the Tour Down Under, worrying for the race if it says skipping it delivera your best ever season but perhaps untangling causation and correlation isn’t so obvious. Jurgen Roelandts avoided Australia too before a decent sprint campaign, you remember the wild edition of Gent-Wevelgem in the storm. For a long time Roelandts was leading the race solo and even looked like a winner until fatigue got the better of him and he finished seventh, it’d be his best showing in the spring classics. Talking of showing in the classics, Greipel was very visible in his German national champions kit as he set about doing team work for others, a generous gesture that surely wins around colleagues to help him later in the year.

Leadout: Greipel is the team’s lead rider and perhaps more than skipping the land of Skippy is the way they’ve got their leadout perfected, notably with Marcel Sieberg and Greg Henderson. While other teams work hard to control the bunch with their sprint trains throughout the last, say, 10km, it’s been common for Lotto-Soudal to gatecrash the party by only appearing on the front in the final moments. Crafty and effective.

As ever though these successes don’t happen in isolation. Greipel was brilliant in the Tour but what if Marcel Kittel had started with the same form as 2013? To which the obvious reply is that Greipel made his own luck while others had their plans fall apart. One good example of this was Stage 1 of the Tour de France when Lotto were instrumental in splitting the field apart under the stormy skies.

Paris Nice and Tony Gallopin is about to crack Michał Kwiatkowski

Belgium is a small place and there’s not much room for two big cycling teams. For years Lotto-Soudal have been the underdogs to Etixx-Quickstep and this continues to some extent. Etixx-QS is the team that’s had Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish and Michał Kwiatkowski on their books while Lotto struggles for the star factor. This must have made victory taste even sweeter for team boss Marc Sergeant whether the sight of Greipel outsprinting Cavendish or Gallopin ditching Kwiatkowski in Paris-Nice.

Adam Hansen has broken the record for riding consecutive grand tours. A personal achievement and a publicity win for the team too, it’s made the news over and over again but it’s always been a means to an end, he’s made the Lotto team for the Tour de France because he’s valuable for the way he can tow the bunch along. It’s looked fun along the way. Soudal have made some simple but clever ads on the back of it and Greipel remains a gentle giant, the “Gorilla of Rostock” looks imposing but he’s really a rather sensitive gentleman, shy even.

At the end of May we were eleventh with 206 points, now we finish at 832… … We collected a lot of points especially in the second part of the season, after Movistar and Katusha even most of all World Tour teams.

That’s team manager Marc Sergeant doing a season debrief with the Belgian media. Telling on two levels, first because it shows how the team has scored points and away from the spring classics when you might expect them to thrive. The second degree is the team manager quoting the absolute number of points because it’s one of the things that matters to many managers even if it leaves fans wholly indifferent as they want action and emotion rather than artithmetic.

A lot of the teams wins come from smaller races and the big gap is stage race wins, in particular in the mountains and grand tours. Tony Gallopin was strong in Paris-Nice and had a great Tour de France including 9th in the La Pierre St Martin summit finish before falling away later in the race. They took wins in the Eneco Tour thanks to Tim Wellens plus the Tour de Picardie and the Ster ZLM Tour. But the mountain stage races are a rarefied zone and not all teams can or should compete, just assembling the riders needed consumes millions of Euros from the team budget. For years the team has been backing Jurgen Van Den Broeck and he has delivered results and rankings only without much attention. He’s even finished on the Tour de France podium but this is because Alberto Contador and Denis Menchov have since been ejected. The team gave him a final trial in the Giro and apparently there were arguments and “divorce” was sought. He’s off to Katusha.

New for 2016 are Jelle Wallays who’s been a solid classics rider for Topsport Vlaanderen and provides more depth for the team. Spaniard Rafael Valls and Polish rider Tomasz Marczynski, from the Conti team Torku Şekerspor are the only other two signings, odd choices. To satisfy sponsors who want reach into their native markets or can Valls make his climbing more consistent and bag a grand tour stage?

History: the Belgian lottery backed a team in 1984, liked it and in 1985 took over sponsorship and they’ve stayed in the sport ever since, the longest run of team sponsorship in the peloton today and by some margin. Still this is to be expected in cycling crazy Belgium from a sponsor tasked with supporting sports. They been around so long there are many highlights, Paris-Roubaix in 1994 and Milan-Sanremo in 1999 both thanks to Andre Tchmil then the jackpot of the Tour of Flanders in 2000. They ventured into stage racing, notably with Cadel Evans who finished second in the 2008 Tour de France and almost won the Vuelta the next year but he wasn’t at ease and jumped to BMC. In 2011 Philippe Gilbert won all of the Ardennes classics.

If you want more reasons to like them then they’ve got their own Lotto-Soudal Ladies Team and a strong U23 team too that’s brought new riders into the team like Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot.

Several other teams have clicked this year:

  • Giant-Alpecin launched with a fanfare in Berlin and delivered wins in the classics, the Tour de France and surprised in the Vuelta all while their star rider was out of action
  • MTN-Qhubeka thrived when it counted with success in the Tour de France although their “hire lots of sprinters” method looks weak with several failing to win a single race
  • Lampre-Merida have often been a team you’d bet against winning but 2015 has smiled on them

They’re not the best but 2015 has been a great year for Lotto-Soudal with 40 wins. Things have worked out for the Belgium’s second team, for years things looked chaotic to the point where Cadel Evans had to leave. Now they’re a strong classics squad, have one of the best sprint trains in the business and a raft of promising younger riders. Repeating 2015 already looks like plenty to ask but they are aiming high with manager Sergeant declaring one aim for 2016 is to win a major spring classic.

29 thoughts on “Lotto Winners”

  1. They’ve certainly been a likable, attacking team this year. Gallopin, Wellens and Roelandts always seem to be trying something. Good on them. If they can keep hold of Wellens and Benoot they could have the classics locked up over the next few years, and surely Gallopin is due a big win.

    • Definitely.
      Their ‘second string’ younger riders like Jens Debusschere and Sean De Bie are in this mould too ; very strong at HC and .1 races. If they continue to develop well, they could be future Classics winners also.
      Wallays fits right into their Belgian profile and will be a useful recruit next Spring and at other one-days.

      With an annual budget of circa €15m, they must have been one of the most efficient teams this season.
      You get the impression of a well-run, harmonious, happy and motivated squad now.
      And the Soudal advert was rather amusing too.

  2. For next year–aim small, miss small.

    But, honestly, Greipel looked invincible at this year’s Tour–and at his age, no less. Hat’s off to them!

  3. For me the team that has really “clicked” in 2015 is BMC. Sure, they have had some successes in the past, but for in 2012-13 they really seemed a bit lost without regular wins from Cadel Evans who struggled with health and form, signing big names like Thor Hushovd and Phillpe Gilbert because they could rather than because they really knew what to do with them. However, since Alan Peiper has turned up, BMC seem to finally be getting some value for all the Euros they’ve spent. This year they had stage wins at all three grand tours, denominated the TTT event all year, GVA didn’t finish second all the time, Rohan Dennis proved to be a masterful signing and young guys like Ben Hermans and Jempy Drucker could step up to be the one day contenders of the next few years. All that’s missing is another GT podium or win, and perhaps TVG or Richie Porte could manage that next year.

      • I think that’s it, we expect a lot from them. Jonathan Vaughters has tweeted their budget is bigger than Sky’s and I’m currently reading a book that says they have over 90 staff, significantly more than any other team.

        • Am I right in saying that due to them being Andy Rihs’ private plaything, we’re not privy to their accounts? And as a result, we can’t even be certain of the inordinate amount of money they could be throwing at the team.

          But yes by investment metrics, if the figures being thrown around are accurate then one could argue there’s underperformance. Cadel aside, there’s not been the results one might expect – Gilbert had his best days in the Lotto jersey, as discussed above. Other sports seem to tilt in favour of investment yielding results, with the occasional “underdog” overperformance. Sky (being the obvious example) and BMC’s underperformance aside of course, does cycling fit that mould too?

          I have enjoyed your financial articles in the past, by the way, just my memory for detail isn’t always what it should be! I would welcome another if we are due one, and it’s this level of detail which brings me back.

          • You’re partly right. The team is registered as a business in the US (Rihs sort of contracts Ochowitz) and the State does not require them to file accounts. But the UCI does review all the team budgets, the info exists but it is not made public.

          • Question is for how much longer will it be still considered acceptable for Rihs to contract Ochowitz? He certainly hasn’t done a good job, either way: as others have stated, their palmares since 2011 has been nowhere near that of other top teams. This year’s been the same – cf T-S, Sky, Astana, Movistar – and nothing looks like changing next year: if TVG and Porte both focus on the Tour, BMC might just get a top 5.

    • I wouldn’t say so. The gap between the amount they’re spending and the results is still too huge. They’re without doubt the worst performers among big budget teams – and by far.
      Yet, as you say, it’s fine to notice they’re slightly improving.
      Their worst years, anyway, were IMHO 2013 and 2014: in 2012 they got some two stages in the Giro and three stages in the Vuelta, plus that little detail – the World Championship. The one that matters, not that sponsor-prone, little-contested curiosity which is the TTT WC.
      The Amstel (only relevant thing they brought home in 2014) isn’t worth that.
      Besides, when weighing a season you shoud also take into account disappointments and failed objectives, which detract from your general performance (example: Nibali coming fourth in the TdF wasn’t considered such a great result – and rightly so – albeit not being bad at all).
      In that sense, FWIW, I expected way more by Dennis in the Worlds’ ITT, and their GT campaign was a total failure in terms of GC. Come on, “another GT podium or win” when their best result and only top-ten was Caruso’s 8th place in the Giro? Let’s see if they come a little closer next year.
      Hermans and Drucker are a bit “old” by now. They’ll both be 30 next year and I’d say they didn’t fulfill the expectations placed on them (I was hoping more from Hermans): any big jump in their results would by now be quite of *a surprise*.
      If we speak of “young guys” I’d keep an eye on Küng, Teuns and Zabel (jr. ^__^).
      Much will depend on how Dennis’ growth will proceed – and I’m crossing my fingers for Phinney.
      However, given that 2013 was the low point, with a bit of imagination we can draw a curve which is now raising, and maybe Allan’s work has something to do with that, even if he joined at the end of 2012, if I’m not wrong, hence a strong correlation is still to be seen.

      • Some fair points. In 2014 BMC did score top 10s in all 3 Grand Tours, but not podium-threatening rides save for TVG who had one bad day. Contrast this to their wretched 2013 where Evans again saved the day at the Giro, but they were rubbish at the Tour, riding like a bunch of lost sheep, directionless. Zabel, Küng, Teuns etc are also interesting, maybe Campbell Flakemore will step up, as U23 TT winners have a pretty good track record in the pro peloton, unlike a lot of U23 RR winners. As many people have noted Sky has been quite terrible at developing young riders, they’re attitude seems to be that they can buy all the talent they want so let other teams do the hard work (look at their signings for this year as an example of this, and no doubt the chequebook will be flapping again at the end of 2016 for the signature of one or both of the Yates brothers after OGE has put so much into them).

        • No disrespect intended towards Mr. Flakemore, but I had to look who that is and what races he did, while the others mentioned all left an impression, even 21-year old Rick Zabel who rode the Giro and did some tough and important work for his team. And I don’t think we expect a lot of BMC, on the contrary, they tell us they will do a lot. They want to be a big team, they say they can win a GT/end it on the podium and of course there is the big budget-aspect. So I think, although it is right that they did better than the last seasons, they underachieved. And I don’t get the feeling they are a unit or the riders feel BMC is “their” team, like I get from some other teams. Even their identity is divided (to me): Is it a swiss team (I would like that), an american team, an international team? BMC often leaves me with the impression of many things going on inside/behind the scenes like power struggles, unsatisfied riders, like Sky does too.

      • +1 In any results vs budget calculation BMC (BigMoneyCycling?) looks bad compared to the rest. Ugly bikes too. While I’m not a fan of Ridley either, the retro-paint job combined with a traditional-looking kit, makes Lotto-Soudal my favorite in the looks department. On the other hand “Lurch” is certainly fast but watching that guy sprint is hard on the eyes…how the bike doesn’t break apart under him is beyond me!

  4. BMC do it with a significantly bigger budget though, maybe the biggest of the lot? Arguably they have merely underachieved less if you compare them to Sky, Astana or Tinkers. They have had a good year but still lag in big race wins.

    Being the bridesmaid of Belgian cycling makes Lotto easy to like, as do their bold young riders. The women’s team seems to be undergoing a bit of rebuild: losing Elena Cecchini (as rumoured) would cost them plenty of results, podiums and places. They have brought in Claudia Lichtenberg among others, so maybe it’s a change of focus there.

  5. Talking about budgets.. by slightly off topic…

    The former Hincapie development team is now going to be called Holowesko | Citadel Racing Team Presented by Hincapie Sportswear. So they brought on Citadel, which manages a $25B+ through hedge funds (as does Holowesko, but to a much lesser extent), this bodes well to deep pockets.. That said, they are focused on being a development team.

      • I say “bring on the rich chamois-sniffers” if nobody else will throw their money into pro cycling, but this should serve to remind all the short-term thinkers that cycling still has lots of work to do cleaning up its image so a company might once again look at the sport as a genuine advertising buy rather than just a way to indulge the CEO’s passion?

  6. Nice article Inner Ring – I have always liked this underdog 2nd Belgium team. That brief history skipped from 200 to 2008. You could have mentioned the Robbie McEwen years with 11 Tour stage victories and 3 green jerseys. I think he’s a significant part of their history.

  7. There was a good long interview with Hansen in fancy Flemish bike mag Bahamontes where he said that Greipel was even fetching bottles in the non-sprint stages on the Tour this year. He also said the atmosphere in the team is really good.

    They have two of our Gentenaar local heroes this year in Benoot and De Gendt as well as some great youngsters like De Bie and Van De Sande.

    Love the picture of De Gendt checking out the meisje too.

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