MILAN, Italy (VN) — After being sidelined with knee problems, Jurgen Van den Broeck is progressing well for the Tour de France says Belgium’s team Lotto-Belisol.
“Jurgen is on track,” general manager Marc Sergeant told VeloNews. “He’s stronger than last year and more confident, even his teammates come up to me to tell me, ‘he’s good.'”
The 31-year-old Belgian placed third last week in the Critérium du Dauphiné to confirm his progression after a rocky return to racing this spring. Last July 4, he crashed out of the Tour de France in the finish of the fifth stage to Marseille. His knee suffered ligament and bone damage, and because of an infection risk, doctors were afraid to operate until a week later. Afterward, he needed another four weeks before he could exercise.
In March, Van den Broeck crashed, injured the same knee and abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico stage. Though it was not serious, the crash forced him off the bike again and interrupted his training for the Tour de France.
“There was nothing smooth about my spring,” Van den Broeck added. “I had a hard winter to come back from the injury, and I had to train a lot.”
Sergeant, who raced and won a stage in the 1987 Tour, said that the problems took a toll on Van den Broeck.
“He suffered a lot, also mentally,” Sergeant said. “He was always surrounded by some guys where he felt he didn’t belong, that weighs on you. He’d be riding in the races and lose contact from the 10 best riders, sitting 30 to 40 riders back and thinking, ‘this was not my place.'”
After crashing out of Tirreno-Adriatico, Van den Broeck placed 34th in the Volta a Catalunya and 27th in the País Vasco stage races. He went to Sierra Nevada in Spain to train at altitude, but Lotto was still unsure he could return to his best for the Tour, where he place fourth in 2010 and 2012. The team’s Tour selection hinged on the Critérium du Dauphiné. The team said that if the race went pear-shaped, Van den Broeck might sit at home in July.
Van den Broeck responded well. He placed fourth on the first mountain finish stage to Col du Béal and escaped with eventual overall winner Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) on the final day to jump from fifth to third overall.
“It looks like Jurgen will have to fight for third overall at the Tour de France with the way that Alberto Contador and Chris Froome are riding, but then you never know,” Sergeant explained. “We like to think that anything is possible. You saw from Froome’s stupid crash in the Dauphiné that bad luck can strike. If that had been a broken collarbone, it’d be over for Froome. Jurgen had bad luck last year, and before with broken ribs and an injured shoulder.
“Froome is sprinting uphill all the time, Contador can follow that, but Jurgen can’t follow that. He has to stay consistent. Jurgen knows that if those two go, he just has to keep his own pace and sometimes he comes back.”