Flanders: Numbers game tilts in Quick-Step’s favor
Last week, Yves Lampaert was dropped by Quick-Step Floors teammate Niki Terpstra in E3 Harelbeke as the big Dutchman soloed home to victory. On a wet and wild Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Terpstra made up for it.
“We could not let a breakaway get away without us,” Lampaert said. “[Sep] Vanmarcke put in a big attack, and Niki shouted to me, ‘Go!’ And I went into [the winning move]. That’s how we went all day.”
With that tactical acumen and Lampaert’s winning kick, Quick-Step’s classics domination rolled on Wednesday during a cold, wet, windy, and otherwise wonderful Belgian afternoon.
Lampaert’s successful title defense at the revamped Dwars race — now on the old calendar spot of the Three Days of De Panne — reveals just how deep and multi-faceted Quick-Step is going into the climax of Flanders Week.
With the Ronde van Vlaanderen looming Sunday, the Belgian outfit is using its full-court press to dominate the northern classics.
“We are seeing the leaders more isolated and they have to race more for themselves,” Lampaert said. “[Wednesday] was not a breakaway. The race just split up. Everyone is scared to chase because they all want to have someone up front.”
So far, it’s only Quick-Step that’s been able to consistently put its riders at the sharp end of the stick during the key tactical moments of the races. That’s putting archrivals BMC Racing and Bora-Hansgrohe on the defensive.
And it’s not that Quick-Step has a one-two punch in this year’s classics campaign. The Belgian classics squad brings a four-card full house to Flanders Week, and it’s paying off in spades. Behind Lampaert and Terpstra, there’s defending Flanders champion Philippe Gilbert and last year’s Roubaix runner-up Zdenek Stybar.
Quick-Step is flooring the peloton with numbers, which so far is paying off with cobblestone gold.
“Maybe we don’t have the big star like [Peter] Sagan or Greg [Van Avermaet], but we have the quality,” said Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere. “We can play off each of them. We are the only team with four leaders.”
Of the three major classics so far, Quick-Step has won Harelbeke and Dwars, and finished second in Gent-Wevelgem to Sagan. Lampaert’s trophy was Quick-Step’s 20th victory so far in 2018 (with 10 different riders). And to prove its spring domination, Quick-Step has won seven of the past eight Belgian one-day races it has started.
For Lefevere, this year’s classics success is sweet confirmation for the veteran Belgian manager who almost lost his team in a sponsorship crisis last summer. Lefevere no longer can lean on retired superstar Tom Boonen, but the team is now performing on teamwork, rather than star power.
“We’ve been racing like since the 1990s — with multiple leaders in the classics,” Lefevere said. “If you’re intelligent, you can win more races without the big star.”
So far, Quick-Step’s depth is leaving its rivals out-gunned and out-maneuvered.
The team’s been able to mark moves and put riders on the attack. And if they miss a move, they’re able to foil any unwanted aggression. That’s what happened during a key moment Wednesday. Van Avermaet and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) attacked hard to open a gap, but no Quick-Step rider went with them. That effort eventually withered under the Quick-Step chase, and neither Benoot nor Van Avermaet had the horsepower to answer when others counter-attacked over the top.
“I attacked on the Côte de Trieu and Van Avermaet joined. Unfortunately, no Quick-Step rider followed because they were yet again the strongest team,” said a dismayed Benoot. “If a guy from Quick-Step would have joined us, we would have remained ahead of the chasing group.”
It seems as if Quick-Step is toying with its rivals. In the only race it didn’t win — Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem — Sagan took the flowers in part because Quick-Step’s sprinter Elia Viviani was boxed in on the final sprint.
“Quick-Step is hard to beat because they have so many good riders,” said Trek-Segafredo sport director Dirk Demol. “If Lampaert doesn’t go, then you have Terpstra. And then you have Phil and Stybie. No team is as strong right now.”
Sagan and Van Avermaet are arguably the two stronger individual riders when measured one-on-one against Quick-Step’s players. Yet it’s their collective mass that’s dominating the classics so far.
It’s not that the others aren’t trying. Sagan has Daniel Oss and Marcus Burghardt, while Van Avermaet has been leaning on Stefan Kung and Jurgen Roelandts to help. They have yet been able to step out. That could change at Flanders and Roubaix, where the longer distances and punishing courses create an even more elite selection.
And ever more frightening, at least for Quick-Step’s rivals, is that Stybar and Gilbert have been waiting patiently in the wings for Flanders and Roubaix, the two marquee dates on the spring calendar.
“We can be very strong when we go again with our four-man leadership in Flanders,” Lampaert said. “We are all [four] on the same level. We just need to make sure we don’t go into defense mode. We have to go into offense mode and force the other leaders to chase us.”
So far, aggression is paying off. With the numbers and experience it brings to Flanders, Quick-Step is the team to beat on Sunday.