Versatility is an important quality in professional cycling, as Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) demonstrated when he sprinted to third place in Rouen at the end of stage 4 of the Tour de France.
For the past two seasons, the Dutchman has had a very specific role at Argos-Shimano, as the lead-out man for the talented sprinter Marcel Kittel. The partnership has been a successful one, and the pair were primed to make a big impact in their Tour de France debut.
Unfortunately for Kittel, he has been afflicted by illness since the Tour began, and has been unable to take part in any sprints so far, although he is courageously continuing in the race. Instead, the role of team sprinter has temporarily fallen to Veelers, and the 27-year-old has responded with some fine performances.
After finishing in 4th place at Tournai on Monday, Veelers went one better on Wednesday, coming home in a fine 3rd place, just behind winner André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and the experienced Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD).
“Before the Tour, I didn’t think once about the scenario that Marcel could get sick. Unfortunately the situation did arise and now I’m just trying to replace Marcel as best as possible,” Veelers said with typical modesty after the stage.
After earning a reputation as one of the best lead-out men in the peloton, Veelers appreciates good teamwork when he sees it, and he was pleased to benefit from the fine efforts of Argos-Shimano on the approach to Rouen. With their help, Veelers avoided the crashes that marred the finale, and found himself in a good position in the finishing straight.
“I got another good lead-out today. Koen de Kort dropped me off at the front very well,” Veelers said. “After that, I wanted to get on Greipel’s wheel, but I thought it would cost me too much energy. Then I followed Petacchi. On Monday, I passed him out but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do so again.”
Nonetheless, Veelers now has a very creditable 3rd place finish on his palmares. And he also has a couple of more opportunities to land the biggest victory of his career before the Tour hits the mountains at the weekend.
“On Thursday we are going to try again,” he said. “I keep coming closer and closer, so maybe we can go for the win. At least that’s our goal. Winning is a dream.”