On the eve of a new season, CEO Jean-François Bourlart flashes back to the roads taken in the team’s first season in the World Tour (part 2).
JULY – NEW DYNAMICS
Early in the summer, the team is affected by the accident of Maurits Lammertink, who was hit by a scooter during a walk with his family. The team’s fourth participation to the Tour de France is marred by crashes in the first week, which lead to the abandon of Loïc Vliegen and injuries to Zimmermann and Rota. But the team continued to move forward: Louis Meintjes finished fourteenth in the general classification, the six riders reaching Paris all obtained a top ten, among which a prestigious sixth place for Danny van Poppel in the sprint on the Champs-Elysées.
The after-Tour de France saw the birth of an upward spiral. Zimmermann, another revelation, carried on after his first Tour and delivered the third victory of the season in the Tour de l’Ain, a succes which was coupled to the defense of the yellow leader’s jersey the next day. On the same day, Lorenzo Rota finished fourth in the Clasica San Sebastian despite a crash in the final kilometers. Early August, the overall victory in the Arctic Race of Norway slipped out of Odd Eiking’s hands for only two seconds. Meanwhile, Taaramäe finished third in the Sazka Tour.
AUGUST – THE RED DREAM
Mid-August, Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay Hailu made a sparkling debut for IWG in the Tour de Pologne, just like his teammates who continued to distinguish themselves with their offensive attitude. It is in that manner that Rein Taaramäe earned a fabulous win in the Vuelta a España, on the third stage towards Picon Blanco. Just like in the Giro, the stage win took place in the team’s first participation to the event. Cherry on the cake, the Estonian rider also became leader in the general and mountains classification, a position he kept for two days until a crash diverted him from the red jersey.
After stage 10, Odd Eiking regained the precious leader’s jersey of the Vuelta, allowing the red dream to continue. It lasted for seven more days, during which Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux’ line up was praised for its ability to defend a position they have never been in on a Grand Tour. Reaching Santiago de Compostela, Eiking ended in eleventh place in the final GC. Never a rider of the team had done better in a three week event. The only negative note blemishing this incredible Vuelta was the unfortunate crash and abandon of Louis Meintjes two days before the end, as he was sitting in tenth position in the provisional classification.
SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER : THE APOTHEOSIS
Inspired by his teammates in the Vuelta, Danny van Poppel added another win in the Egmont Cycling Race the day after Taaramäe’s victory. Early September, Taco van der Hoorn won in the Benelux Tour, again after a long day in the front, and Biniam Girmay took his first European victory in the Classic Grand Besançon. The podium appearances kept on coming, Aimé De Gendt joined Remco Evenepoel on the podium of the Brussels Cycling Classic and the Druivenkoers Overijse while van der Hoorn was the only rider able to compete with Mathieu van der Poel in the Antwerp Port Epic.
At the end of September, the team was represented by the most important contingent in its history at the World Championships in Leuven. For the first time, it had an African rider at the start: Biniam Girmay of Eritrea competed in the U23 race. Thanks to a mind-blowing sprint, the 21 year old earned the silver medal and wrote history by becoming the first Black African on the podium. This medal was also the first one for Eritrea and for Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux.
An exemplary team performance in the Omloop van het Houtland resulted in a victory for Taco van der Hoorn, once more after a long breakaway, ahead of his teammate Danny van Poppel, who continued impressing with his consistency in the end of the season classics. On October 5th, the Dutch sprinter offered the best farewell present to Ludwig De Winter with a victory in Binche-Chimay-Binche, the team’s home soil. Lorenzo Rota showed his aggressive racing style in the Italian classics, collecting five top ten finishes. Pasqualon, who grabbed the first podium of the season, also earned the last with a second place in the Ronde van Drenthe, the final race of the season.