Roelandts to co-lead Lotto-Belisol’s podium hopes at Flanders

The Lotto-Belisol rider will co-lead the squad with Tony Gallopin at the cobbled classic

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Belgian Jurgen Roelandts has a bit of extra pressure on him this weekend.

The Lotto-Belisol rider saw two of his teammates — Andre Greipel and Frederik Willems — crash with collarbone injuries in the last week. With those two out of Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), Roelandts will start the race as one of the team’s co-leaders, along with Tony Gallopin.

Roelandts was able to stay on Peter Sagan’s (Cannondale) wheel on the famed Paterberg climb at Flanders last year, eventually finishing two seconds behind him, in third. This year, Roelandts comes into the race on the heels of a 10th place showing at Gent-Wevelgem a week ago — this time seven spots behind Sagan, although the two finished with the same time.

“I hope I have a very good day. In the previous races I rode the final, but I haven’t had a real top result yet,” Roelandts said in a team press release. “My condition is definitely alright for Sunday. If Tony and I are in the front of the race together at the end, I might speculate on my sprint and he can ride more offensively, but there are several options. You have to trust your instinct.

“Of course the team expects something from me. I hope we get into the final with two or three riders and animate the race. After last year I certainly aim for a podium place again.”

The race could provide a drastically different look this time around after organizers moved most of the decisive climbs to the final 50 kilometers of the 259km route. It could result in a more easygoing opening two-thirds of the race before the attacks start. Or it could lead to more chaos, as riders try to stay out of trouble before the closing 50km.

Either way you slice it, Roelandts expects to be in contention.

“The course is tougher than last year and more teams can open the race,” he said. “The Koppenberg is closer to the finish now, from then on it’s going up and down all the time and there’s no time for recovery. For me that’s a good change.”

Omega Pharma rode the second half of the route on Thursday to get a feel for the new finish.

“It doesn’t yield anything to look back and keep thinking about the bad luck we have had, the focus is on Sunday now,” Omega Pharma sport director Herman Frison said. “Jurgen Roelandts and Tony Gallopin, our two leaders, are ready. We don’t have to control the race, that’s up to others.”

This will be Gallopin’s third start at the Belgian classic, and he’s also targeting a good result. He took sixth at last week’s E3 Harelbeke and was 10th overall at  Paris-Nice last month.

“Of course I want to perform as best as possible on Sunday,” Gallopin said. “A place in the top 10 would be great. In 2012 and 2013 the race broke loose on the last passage of the Oude Kwaremont. Now the route has changed again … For the Tour of Flanders, there are many possible scenarios.”

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