11 Belgians, 11 different ambitions

This edition of the Tour de France only sees 11 Belgian riders taking part. Can one of them win a stage? It will not be easy, but it's the highest ambition they have. There is nobody eyeing the general classification, now that GC rider Jurgen Van den Broeck was left home.

Although there are 2 Belgian teams taking part, the Belgian delegation is the smallest in years. Etixx-Quick.Step of senior team manager Patrick Lefevere is only sending one Belgian, Julien Vermote, as the team is built around Mark Cavendish for the sprint, World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski and also Rigoberto Uran for the GC. Lefevere said, smiling, that he will be happy when Cavendish wins 5 stages. This being said, it will Vermote's job to work hard for the team.

De Gendt, a specialist breakaway rider

The other Belgian team, Lotto-Soudal, did not select GC ace Jurgen Van den Broeck, a controversial decision that was not welcomed by the rider. Both parties are splitting up at the end of the season after Van den Broeck was forced to do the Giro d'Italia.

Lotto boasts young ace Tim Wellens, a good climber, and hopes for stage win. It's Wellens' first Tour and he will see how far he gets in the GC. The former Belgian champions Jens Debusschere also hopes for a stage win in a sprint finish with a smaller group as he is not fast enough to beat the specialists.

Thomas De Gendt is the 3rd Belgian selected by Lotto. De Gendt does well overall, both in hilly and mountainous areas, and built a strong reputation as an early breakaway specialist. De Gendt, again, hopes for a stage win. Though the 28-year-old once finished 3rd overall in the Tour of Italy, he has abandoned his GC ambitions.

Several 'loners'

The French AG2R-La Mondiale team is sending Jan Bakelants, a former stage winner and Yellow Jersey, and former Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren, who will mostly work for the team. Bakelants can take his chance if he sees an opportunity.

Serge Pauwels will act as team Captain for MTN-Qhubeka. Also taking part are Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis), veteran rider and former Tour of Flanders winner Stijn Devolder (Trek), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and spring classics specialist Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).

Pregnancy

Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet (photo: after his win in the Tour of Belgium) maybe carry the highest Belgian expectations of the afore-mentioned.

They have the best chances for a stage win in the opening week, also with the cobble-stone stage to Cambrai. Van Avermaet's wife should give birth in the 3rd week of the race, it is hoped this will not be earlier, as Van Avermaet was promised he can leave the race.

Two former world champions, Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert, are absent. Sprinter Boonen has other goals this season; Gilbert was left out by his team in a controversial decision.