Less than a month before it is due to start its first Tour de France, the NetApp Endura team has laid out ambitious goals for the Grand Tour. General manager Ralph Denk has outlined what he wants the German team to aim for in the race, which begins in Leeds on 5th July.
“If everything goes well we have a realistic chance to win a stage and to finish the Tour de France in the top 15 of the general classification with Leo König,” he told CyclingTips. “But for this ambitious goal he has to be in top shape and the entire team must follow its performance from the Vuelta a Espana last year.”
The team rode strongly in the 2013 Vuelta, with König winning a stage and finishing ninth overall. He has been faring well of late, netting third on a stage and fourth overall in the Bayern Rundfahrt.
The team has already announced the 14 riders from which the final selection of nine will be made. Denk said he had faith that all of those would be able to chase the first of those two goals in France.
“Regarding the stage win I think that almost every rider on our long list has the ability to take a victory – depending on the race situation,” he said. “This broad quality is a key part of our team and it was already a factor of our success in the Giro and the Vuelta in the past.”
The team announced the long list on May 22nd. Those in the running to participate are König, Jan Barta, Cesare Benedetti, Sam Bennett, Iker Camano, David de la Cruz, Zak Dempster, Bartosz Huzarski, Tiago Machado, José Mendes, Andreas Schillinger, Daniel Schorn, Scott Thwaites and Paul Voss [pictured].
Bennett is one of the neo pros this year and has already put in a strong case for inclusion. He has clocked up three victories thus far, namely the Clasica de Almeria in March, the Rund um Köln in April and then a stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt at the start of this month.
The successes mark him out as a rider who could develop into one of the strongest in the bunch sprints. Denk said he was encouraged by the progress the Irishman has made this far. “I am very satisfied with Sam – this does not only include his great results but also how quickly he found a way to fit in our team.
“Above all, I am very happy that he is able to race in a result-orientated way, even with changing lead-out patterns. I am actually not that surprised that he already scored some wins in the early season. He proved in the late part of last year’s season that he is able to win big races. His success right now is an indication of his development and the positive structure of our team.”
Bennett is next due to compete in the GP Gippingen on June 12th. Denk believes he could perform well there. “It is quite a hard race but that could suit him because it has a climb on the lap where some other sprinters will get dropped. After that, the Irish National Championships are on his program.”
Asked to assess both where Bennett is strong and also where he needs to improve, Denk said his desire for results was a major plus.
“Sam’s strengths include his being quite grown-up for his age and also that he is absolutely determined to win. He doesn’t see any success in a second, third or fourth place – he is hungry for wins only,” he said.
“Above, he can climb decently for a sprinter, which makes him special in many races. The endurance, which he’ll need for longer tours and stages in the future, will develop by itself. A point to improve: he needs to learn to take some tasks more easily, and that strength lies also in calmness during a race.”
Thus far the young Irishman is one of the most successful riders on the team this year. It seems clear he is one of its fastest sprinters, if not the quickest. So what does he need to do to secure a Tour ride?
“This depends from the overall structure of our Tour squad, which we haven’t defined yet,” Denk explained. “We still have two preparation tours to come with the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Slovenia. Only after those we’ll decide the final direction for our team in the Tour de France, including the key decision if we also want to go for sprints.”