The comeback man, the classic rider and the flying Belgian Author: Michaël Torfs

Fri 30/06/2017 - 11:54 Michaël Torfs 16 Belgians are taking the start of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf this Saturday, a 15-year high. While some have high ambitions to win a stage, others will have to work for their team leader as gregarios. Belgium has no contender for the top-5, though some newcomers may test how far their future GC ambitions reach in the mountains. One Belgian stands out in particular, Oliver Naesen in the tricolour jersey of Belgian champion.

Three riders are catching most of the attention: the former World Champions Philippe Gilbert, the reigning Olympic Champions Greg Van Avermaet and the newly crowned Belgian Champion Oliver Naesen.

Gilbert, who is turning 35 next week, found back his best form after moving to the Belgian Quick-Step team, winning the Tour of Flanders and the Gold Race this spring. He has high ambitions to win another Tour stage: Monday's third stage should fit him like a glove. "The Tour starts on Monday", Gilbert told reporters.

Oliver Naesen is flying

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), who just turned 32, also has realistic ambitions to clinch the day's prize. He won a stage in 2015 and 2016 and wants to make it three in a row. Not a real sprinter and not a real climber, Van Avermaet is a strong rider who can win a tough, hilly stage, and he is fast enough in a sprint of a breakaway group, beating Peter Sagan in a tense final sprint in Rodez in 2015.

In-form Oliver Naesen saw his contract with the French team AG2R extended, a reward for taking the Belgian title. He will also get a special tricolour bicycle from his sponsor. Naesen is only 26 and still needs to search his limits. He is flying for the moment, enjoying the form of his life and his spirits were boosted by the Belgian title.

Young lions with Lotto

Three Belgian teams are taking part: Quick-Step, Lotto-Soudal and Wanty-Groupe Gobert, who received a wild card. Lotto and Wanty are sending four Belgians each.

Lotto sees youngster Tiesj Benoot testing his legs in the mountains and going for white jersey of best young rider - the ambition is to have it just a couple of days, not in Paris. Tim Wellens, another ambitious youngster, can win a stage, just like Thomas De Gendt, who will want to try his chance to grab the Polkadot Jersey.

The Tour de France has a finish in Liège on Sunday, departing from Verviers on Monday.