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Vuelta a Espana

Rossignon and Van Melsen in the Vuelta : « This surpasses our dreams »

At the start of the Vuelta towards Santiago de Compostela, they didn’t forget the roads taken since the start of the century. Cumulating 40 years of history in the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert project, sports director Jean-Marc Rossignon(since 1997) and Kévin Van Melsen (since 2009) are ready to write a new chapter of the team which will participate at its first Vuelta. “This surpasses our dreams” explains Rossignon, who started with the VC Ath in 1997. “I integrated the local club VC Ath with Yves Lessens. At the time, we had around fifteen riders. Jean-François Bourlart joined us in 2001 and our budget was 300 000 Belgian francs (around 7500 euros). Having access to the Top Competition was already a big step, but I never would have imagined to achieve the top of the cycling pyramid. Personally, I’m also very proud because my mother is from Asturia.”

Kévin Van Melsen remembers signing his first contract with the structure from the Hainaut region really well, before season 2009. That was the second year on the Continental level under the name Verandas Willems. “It was the best structured project in Wallonia. VC Ath was already a reference among the clubteams in the Top Competition. I knew that Jean-François Bourlart wanted to step up to the professional level, so it was a nice step in my career. I remember that I immediately started at the Etoile de Bessèges, with sprinter Stefan van Dijk. The team never stopped progressing since. Personally, I’ve always felt good in the team, which was always grateful for my work. I’m happy that I accompanied the project at this level. I’m proud to have taken all these milestones with the team, from passing to the Pro Continental level in 2011 to riding numerous classics and the Tour de France in 2019, with a magical start in Brussels.”

More than twenty years later, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert integrated the UCI World tour and can participate in three Grand Tours. “A world of difference” say Rossignon and Van Melsen. “Some people forget where we come from” explains the 34 year old rider from Liège. “We come from almost nothing. I remember the first races, with an old red truck and an old camper driven by volunteers, … Now, we’ve got two buses, many cars, six bikes per rider, … Jean-François Bourlart managed to grow the structure to an unexpected level.”

“It is the continuity from the work we started in the youth and U23 categories” continues the 55 year old sports director from Lessines. “I knew that Kévin had the capabilities to become a good professional rider, but I never imagined that we’d be together at the start of the Vuelta ten years later. He already showed at the Tour de France that he’s more than a classics rider, so I expect him to join the breakaways and to assist his leaders.”

So what can we expect, from this first participation at the Vuelta? “Collectively, a stage win” they answer. “The last weeks reassured us” says Rossignon. “The team is ready for this third Grand Tour of the year. We want to go for a stage win by staying loyal to our offensive mindset. And Louis Meintjes can go for the general classification without pressure.” So Van Melsen will be one of the candidates to go in a breakaway. “I don’t want to save myself anymore like in the Tour of 2019” underlines the Belgian baroudeur. “At the time, I didn’t know how my body would react after three weeks of effort and I wanted to reach Paris. This time, I’ll save less energy and I’ll use the opportunities to join breakaways, not to forget to protect my leaders when I’m part of the peloton. Anyway, I can’t wait to start my second Grand Tour of my career, because my preparation was perfect with an altitude camp in July in La Toussuire, followed by the Tour de Wallonie and the Clasica San Sebastian.”


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