During season 2021, its first in the World Tour, team Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert underwent a transformation. Taco Van der Hoorn initiated the change with his stage win in the Giro d’Italia, the first one for the team of Jean-François Bourlart in a Grand Tour.
The performances of the Walloon team then went crescendo, with the nine days in the red leader’s jersey in the Tour of Spain and a historical silver medal of Biniam Girmay at the U23 World Championships in Leuven as a climax.
The challenge of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert for season 2022 was to confirm, prioritizing its mission of confirming its World Tour license. The team started the new season in seventeenth place in the UCI ranking of 2020-2021, just above the relegation zone.
JANUARY – FEBRUARY – A thrilling start
For the first time, the team prepared the season with two performance-oriented team meetings in Belgium and two training camps in the Spanish province Alicante, during which Performance Manager Aike Visbeek and his team established the strategy to reach the team goals in 2022.
It was also on Spanish soil that the World Team started its competition program at the end of January. From the second race day Biniam Girmay secured the first victory of the season by winning a bunch sprint in the Trofeo Alcúdia.
Former European champion Alexander Kristoff collected a series of podium finishes with the support of his sprint train before taking his first victory in the Clásica de Almería on February 12th, his first career win in Spain.
The climbers of the World Team began their season in the Tour of Oman. Jan Hirt triumphed in the queen stage on top of Green Mountain, his first succes since 2016. With the support of a solid team, the Czech rider managed to secure the overall victory.
At the end of February, the Flemish classics campaign started with an eighth place for Andrea Pasqualon in Omloop het Nieuwsblad, followed one day later by a tenth place for Taco Van der Hoorn in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, result of a monstrous breakaway which ended 50 meter before the finish line.
MARCH – APRIL: A historical classics campaign
The Walloon team shone in the attack in the GP Le Samyn, the first race on home soil, with Loïc Vliegen achieving his third top five in three weeks. Another exemplary teammates, Simone Petilli, surpassed himself in the Strade Bianche by finishing in ninth place, the best result ever for the team on the white roads.
In Paris-Nice, Biniam Girmay competed for the first time on the highest level against the best sprinters in the world, conquering the white jersey of best young rider in the opening stage. Two weeks later he finished twelfth in Milano-Sanremo, his very first Monument, racing alongside former winner Alexander Kristoff with who he was about to discover the cobble classics as part of an experienced team.
The Eritrean rider shone in the E3 Classic Harelbeke, discovering the mythical Flemish cobble climbs and managing to follow the best riders. He finished the race in fifth position, in the first chasing group behind the duo Wout Van Aert – Christophe Laporte.
A couple of minutes after this successful test for Biniam Girmay in the E3 Classic, Aike Visbeek decided in dialogue with Girmay that he would reinforce the team around Alexander Kristoff in Ghent-Wevelgem two days later, rather than concluding his first part of the season in La Roue Tourangelle.
This strategical choice resulted in a predominant collective strength of team Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert in the final. Thanks to an attack with 25 kilometer to go, Girmay sprinted for the victory with his breakaway companions Laporte, Jasper Stuyven and Dries Van Gestel. After launching the sprint first, Girmay crossed the line as the winner and entered History as the first African winner of a major classic, a couple of days before his 22nd birthday.
Alexander Kristoff finished in the top ten of the Tour of Flanders for the eighth time in eleven participations, after another 200 kilometer breakaway of Taco Van der Hoorn. It was an omen for what followed three days later in the Scheldeprijs, where the Norwegian rider achieved the first solo victory in his pro career at the end of a race through very difficult weather conditions.
The team for the classics showed its collective strength in Paris-Roubaix, with not less than six riders of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert among the 23 first riders: Tom Devriendt (4th), Adrien Petit (6th), Alexander Kristoff (12th), Taco van der Hoorn (16th), Andrea Pasqualon (19th), Baptiste Planckaert (23rd) and Kévin Van Melsen (56th).
Climbers Louis Meintjes and Domenico Pozzovivo obtained their first podium for the Walloon team in the Tour of Sicily. Quinten Hermans did the same on World Tour level in Itzulia Basque Country, before realizing a stunt in Liège-Bastogne-Liège three weeks later. By finishing second in La Doyenne behind Remco Evenepoel en ahead of Wout Van Aert, Hermans achieved the first podium of the team in a Monument.
To be continued in part 2 & 3