Van Aert and Kuss look ahead to start of season in Spain and Portugal
With the start of the Tour Down Under, the professional cycling peloton has already kicked off the new season. Next week, Team Visma | Lease a Bike will be at the start of European races for the first time in 2024. On the eve of their season opener, Wout van Aert, Sepp Kuss and sports director Arthur van Dongen look ahead.
With three one-day races in Spain and a stage race in Portugal, the yellow and black squad's European start could be challenging. From 10 to 12 February, Team Visma | Lease a Bike will compete in the Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia, the Clásica de Almería and the Clásica Jaén.
Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia
Kuss, winner of the recent Vuelta a España, will start his season in Murcia on Saturday. "I'm looking forward to starting the season”, the American said. "I had a good winter. I was able to train well over the last few months after a short break. After a long time without racing, you wait for the moment when you can pin on a bib again. That moment has come."
Van Dongen shares his rider's feelings. "It's great that the season is starting again. The Spanish races are great opportunities to get back into the rhythm. Some of our classic core riders ride here. They need to start the opening weekend in the best possible shape. These races will certainly help", the Dutchman said on the eve of his fifth year with the team.
Team: Sepp Kuss, Mick van Dijke, Robert Gesink, Per Strand Hagenes, Loe van Belle, Tosh Van der Sande, Jan Tratnik.
Clásica de Almería
In Almería, Team Visma | Lease a Bike will go all out for the sprint. "We want to compete for the win with Olav Kooij", said Van Aert, who, like Kooij, will be racing his first road race in Almería. "It's an ideal time to race with Olav again. Of course, we will do the same at the Giro d'Italia later this year. I see the upcoming races mainly as preparation for my first big goals of the year. I already have a couple of cross-country races in my legs, giving me a good feeling. Now, I hope to keep that feeling on the road. This does not directly depend on the results in Spain and the Algarve."
Team: Wout van Aert, Loe van Belle, Mick van Dijke, Tim van Dijke, Julien Vermote, Olav Kooij, Tosh Van der Sande.
"In Jaén, the course is much harder", Van Aert continued. "It's a course with gravel strips, so it's a race I'm looking forward to. I want to go all the way in the final in Jaén."
Kuss will also be competing in the southern Spanish province. "I like to do things that deviate from the norm from time to time. This race is one of them. There is always something special about gravel races. Stepping out of my comfort zone now and then always gives me a little extra pleasure in the sport. Besides, with the gravel stage of the upcoming Tour de France in mind, this race is good training", the former mountain biker said.
Team: Wout van Aert, Sepp Kuss, Tim van Dijke, Robert Gesink, Per Strand Hagenes, Jan Tratnik, Julien Vermote.
Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta
Both riders will also compete in the Algarve from 14-18 February. "This block of races in Spain and Portugal is an important prelude to the opening weekend for me", Van Aert said. "I hope to take the final step towards top form there. I will choose my days in Portugal. There are some nice stages and a time trial. I don't have any ambitions for the GC. Above all, I hope to return home with good legs and experiences."
Van Dongen: "As Team Visma | Lease a Bike, it doesn't often happen that we start a stage race without GC ambitions. This is the case this time. We will aim for stage wins in the Algarve, where getting a good feeling and fine-tuning the team's pleasant cooperation are the main goals in the prelude to spring."