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All too often in recent seasons, the Rabobank team have got their riders into race-winning breaks in the Classics, only to find themselves frozen out by sheer weight of numbers by Quick Step and, prior to that, Mapei. However, the management of the Dutch team, which was presented to the press in Rotterdam yesterday, believe they now have the depth of talent to carry the battle to world champion Tom Boonen and his team-mates this spring.
Although the double Dekker dream team of experienced campaigner Erik and young pretender Thomas were the undoubted stars of the show, the underlying impression was of a squad that has the potential to win any major one-day race on the calendar. As well as the Dekkers and other homegrown talents such as Michael Boogerd and Pieter Weening, Rabobank can also call on the Classic-winning ability of Spaniards Oscar Freire and Juan Antonio Flecha, backed up by strong support riders such as Pedro Horrillo, Mathew Hayman and Marc Wauters.
Although still working his way back to full fitness after his 2005 injury problems, three-time world champion Freire insists he can be ready for Milan-San Remo in mid-March, while Flecha denied that having so much talent on one team would work against him.
There is stage-racing talent aplenty too, with Tour de France King of the Mountains Michael Rasmussen and Denis Menchov, who could soon be confirmed as the winner of the last year's Vuelta if Roberto Heras is banned for doping this month, joined by Colombian Mauricio Ardila. Thomas Dekker and Weening should also make an impact here as well.
Dekker senior revealed that this will definitely be his last season and that he will step into directeur sportif role currently held by Joop Zoetemelk in 2007. Dekker is one of only four riders who have been with the Dutch team since the sponsor came into the sport in 1996, the others being Boogerd, Jan Boven and Richard Groenendaal, who recently recorded the 1,500th victory for Rabobank at the Centrumcross in Holland.
Veteran Wauters is also bringing the curtain down on his career this season, even if he wins Paris-Roubaix, the race he has always coveted more than any other. Now 37 and heading into his 16th season, Wauters will end his racing career in a special event at Zolder on October 15. The race circuit is just a handful of kilometres from his home and is a frequent training location for him. He also saw his wife there for the first time. The Belgian plans to set up a cycling school after his retirement.
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