On December 23rd 2020, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux received the confirmation of its introduction in the World Tour peloton starting from season 2021. A historic moment for the team managed by Jean-François Bourlart, but equally hazardous as the announcement occurred rather shortly before the opening of the race calendar.
FEBRUARY – APRIL – DIFFICULT BEGINNING
The professional peloton was not spared of the pandemic as several races were cancelled or rescheduled and race programs were turned upside down. On the sportive side, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert started with two top 10 finishes on French soil thanks to Odd Christian Eiking, in the GP La Marseillaise and the Etoile de Bessèges. The team remained faithful to its aggressive style of racing and joined breakaways in the Belgian classics. The first podium of the season took place at the GP Samyn in the beginning of March thanks to Andrea Pasqualon.
Bad luck took its toll in the first World Tour races. The team couldn’t take advantage of the strong collective performance in the final of Omloop het Nieuwsblad as both Jonas Koch and Pasqualon were involved in a crash in the final hundred meters. On the first Monument of the season, Milan – San Remo, Taco van der Hoorn distinguished himself in a 270 kilometer breakaway and a solo on the Cipressa. But Loïc Vliegen was thrown out of the game after a crash in de descent of the Poggio while chasing the leaders.
Danny van Poppel took 4th place at the Scheldeprijs at the beginning of April and finished just outside the top 15 at the Tour of Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem. On stage races, South African rider Louis Meintjes lead the hopes of the team with an 18th place in the UAE Tour and a 23rd place in Paris-Nice. Belgian cyclocross specialist Quinten Hermans was among the revelations of the first part of the season, showing an attractive racing style in the Tour of the Basque Country and excelling in the Ardennes classics with a 14th place in the Flèche Wallonne. There, Maurits Lammertink resisted solo in the lead until the final kilometer. Vliegen and Lorenzo Rota animated Liège-Bastogne-Liège for more than 200 kilometers.
MAY – JUNE – HISTORICAL SUCCESS
The first victory was edging closer in May, with two second places from Danny van Poppel in the sprint behind Sam Bennett in the Volta ao Algarve. Ahead of the Giro d’Italia, the line up lead by Valerio Piva and Steven De Neef promised to leave its mark on our first Grand Tour of the season. And thanks to Taco van der Hoorn, they backed up their words in remarkable fashion. On stage three, the Dutch rider reached Canale after a 190 kilometer breakaway hands in the air, as the winner. He offered the team its first victory of the season and the first ever Grand Tour stage win, in the team’s first Giro participation.
The next day, Rein Taaramäe and Quinten Hermans launched a heroic act, that allowed the Estonian rider to dream about the pink jersey. All eight riders reached Milan after 21 stages, displaying constant offensive racing style, solid performances in the bunch sprints and an exceptional team spirit. The team left its first Giro with a stage win and nine top 10 finishes.
In June, as Danny van Poppel distinguished himself on Belgian soil with podium finishes in Dwars door het Hageland and the Belgium Tour, Taaramäe also offered a historic success by becoming Estonian time trial champion, the first title of the Belgian team in this discipline. The two German riders of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, Koch and Georg Zimmermann, performed remarkably in their national road race championships, by finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively.