04.07.2019 18:00

Tour de France. Dirk Demol: “We will take it stage by stage”

Every July professional cycling focuses on the biggest race of the season with the Tour de France. This year’s start on Saturday in Brussels will begin three weeks of concentrated focus on the roads of France. 

Head sports director Dirk Demol is happy with the team he has put together for the 106th Tour de France: “It’s never an easy selection and some are always disappointed at not being selected. But we start in Brussels with what we feel is the strongest team to represent KATUSHA ALPECIN. Of course our original plan months ago when we started thinking about the Tour was to focus on Marcel, and also Ian Boswell and Dani Navarro. None of that became possible so we immediately narrowed down our selection with other ideas in mind for the Tour.”

What criteria are in mind when making the selection of riders? Demol says, “We look at their condition and performance, of course, but we also look at how they fit into the team and how they perform as true team players. This was very important to us. We all know that in a 3-week stage race each rider has at least one bad day, or maybe a couple of them, so we needed to select riders who would work through their bad days as well as have the support of their teammates to ride through it.” 

RidersJens Debusschere (BEL), Alex Dowsett (GBR), José Gonçalves (POR), Marco Haller (AUT), Nils Politt (GER), Rick Zabel (GER), Mads Würtz Schmidt (DEN) & Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) 
 

 

First we look at team captain Ilnur Zakarin. Demol: “Ilnur Zakarin rode well in the Giro d’Italia last May, winning stage 13 and earning 10th overall, and now comes to the Tour with open ambitions. He’s a classy rider and earned his break after the Giro. He comes back to competition at the Tour and of course it is hard right from the beginning in Brussels. We’ll see after a few days how hard he wants to focus on the GC. We might just hunt stage wins with him; we have that option with him.”

Nils Politt will be the co-leader with Ilnur. Dirk Demol: “He’s earned this place in the team. His classics season was incredibly good, taking second place in Roubaix. Also his time trials have been great this year, finishing always in the top ten, even taking second in the German championships last week. He is more and more a leader off the bike. We see and hear it at the dinner table.”

Marco Haller had a difficult year last year after a serious accident and he came back to racing hungry for competition. Demol: “He told us right from the beginning that he would race any program we needed him on, he would be ready for all of it. He’s at a good level and we see him as a strong road captain, also. He speaks a lot at the table and on the bike, communicating to the directors what the riders need. We’re driving in the cars well behind the peloton – it’s important to have these avenues of communication.”

SprinterJens Debusschere will have good support from the team. Dirk Demol: “Marco is there to lead out in a sprint for Jens along with Rick and Alex. We hope to see some top ten, maybe even some top five sprints from Jens. He will have good support, even Nils will help in a train if we need him. They will be there for him. These guys are important on the flat stages too in case Ilnur were to need them, especially to protect a leader in the cross-winds. They know how to do it.”

tka_schafbauer_tdf2019_bmw-150.jpgFor Mads Würtz Schmidt it will be his first time to ride le Tour. Demol: “We see Mads coming back to a level we’ve expected from him. Last year wasn’t perfect for him, but this year he did a good Roubaix and his level has continued to come up. He’s super happy and motivated to come to the Tour for the first time. Most of the riders have only ridden the Tour a few times so they all come with enthusiasm and anticipation for the biggest race.”

Alex Dowsett is the new British TT champion. Dirk Demol: “We’ve seen him already have some bad luck earlier this year with crashes so now we hope that is behind us and what we’ve seen is that he’s continuing to improve. He’s a super specialist. I have full confidence that he’s ready for the competition. He’s a rider who fits very well into this team. Off the bike he is such a team player.”

The team has another national champion with José Gonçalves winning the Portual TT championships last week. Dirk Demol: “We cannot forget that we saw him finish 14th last year in the Giro. Already in the winter he was talking about the Tour and we hope he brings his best legs to France. Last year he focused on the Giro and had a good result. Now he’s focused on the Tour and we hope for the same. He can climb so why not expect that he can surprise us in a mountain stage? He can be very good in a breakaway. We will take it with him day-by-day and hopefully win a stage.”

The eighth member of the team is Rick Zabel. Demol: “Zabel is a rider we expect to see continuing to improve. I don’t believe we have seen his full potential as a rider yet. It’s not easy for riders who have famous father’s in the sport who were champions, but Rick has figured it all out for himself. He has been motivated all season to ride the Tour and he’s proved that he deserves to be here. He will be vitally important on the flat stages to help Jens and may even have chances for himself.”

As far as the team philosophy, Director Demol sees this as a good chance for every rider to produce a result: “Everyone on the team comes with the full knowledge that they have opportunities in this Tour de France. It’s wide open to all of them and it will be up to them to go and take it. We selected them because they are fighters, most of them coming from the classics where you have to constantly fight. It’s up to us to motivate them and up to them to push each other. I’m confident we have the right group on the start line in Brussels. We will take it stage by stage but we expect good things from our guys. We will look for our chances.”

Photos: Kathrin Schafbauer