“That’s a big, big difference with no Tadej Pogacar" - Team Visma | Lease a Bike sees Tour of Flanders chances raised by Slovenian's absence

Team Visma | Lease a Bike's preparations for the upcoming Classics season are well underway and according to sports director, Merijn Zeeman, things are looking positive.

“We won five Classics last year and that’s pretty good but of course, the big aim is Flanders or Roubaix," Zeeman reviews in conversation with GCN. "It’s obviously harder to win those races than the other ones but we’re always looking for things that we can optimise from a performance standpoint. That’s training, nutrition, tactics, strategy, and all the things we constantly try to improve so that we can get closer to the win. That’s the biggest job that we have."

At the Tour of Flanders, reigning champion, Tadej Pogacar will be a notable absentee as his calendar shifts to accommodate his change in targets this year, notably the Giro d'Italia. “That’s a big, big difference with no Pogacar. He was by far the best last year and it would be incredibly difficult to beat him if he was there," Zeeman admits optimistically.

Nevertheless, a big obstacle will still be present in Flanders in the form of recently crowned Cyclocross World Champion, Mathieu van der Poel. "A super-strong rider, and he’s won it two times," says Zeeman. "He’s the big favourite for these races again in my opinion. Last year he was super good in all the big races that he wanted to be good in. He will be good at all of the most important moments of the year and that makes our job very clear too. We need to be better than last year to beat him. It’s a very nice challenge to see if we can get closer to him."

Whilst the core of Team Visma | Lease a Bike's Classics team are likely to be the same as in 2023, there have been a couple of enforced changes to their plans. “The big loss is Nathan Van Hooydonck, of course. He was super important and that’s a big loss," says Zeeman, after the Dutchman was forced into early retirement after suffering a cardiac arrest whilst driving his car late last year.

"On the other hand, we have Jan Tratnik and Matteo Jorgenson, and they’re both super strong additions to that group. There are some other guys banging on the door, like Tim and Mick van Dijke, so young guys coming from the development team. They’ll also try and take their place in the same so we have enough competition. We have a very strong team,” Zeeman concludes.

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