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Deceuninck-Quick-Step under pressure to perform again

For more than two decades, Belgian team boss Patrick Lefevere keeps delivering big wins — for 2020, he starts anew with 11 fresh faces

CALPE, Spain (VN) — It’s the same story every year. The Deceunick-Quick-Step franchise ends the season at or near the top of the team rankings. It bags more wins than just about everyone else. Then a few top names leave to chase big-money contracts, and team boss Patrick Lefevere has to rebuild the base.

And every year the story ends pretty much the same. Despite the key departures, Lefevere manages to cobble together enough firepower and fresh legs to fill the voids. Deceuninck—Quick-Step ends up winning a whole slew of races again, it finishes atop the rankings, a few key riders leave. Hit repeat button.

“Every year people say we will not win the same amount of races as the previous season,” Yves Lampaert told VeloNews. “Patrick always does a good job recruiting. I am sure we will win a lot again next year.”

Lefevere had his hands full for 2020. There are 11 new riders coming on board this season, with eight departures, including Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal), Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and Enric Mas (Movistar).

Out with the old, in with the new. And for 2020, there’s a lot of new for the self-styled Wolfpack. The only big winner coming on board is Sam Bennett, who joins after a long tussle to get out of a deal with Bora-Hansgrohe. Most are young, promising talent, like American Ian Garrison, Mauri Vansevenant, sixth in the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir, and Joao Almeida, a highly touted Portuguese all-rounder.

Lefevere’s been doing it for decades. Every year, many write him, and every year, he bounces back.

“We only have the fifth or sixth largest budget in the peloton,” Lefevere said with pride. “But we keep winning a lot of races. We must be doing something right.”

Lefevere was beaming Friday as he proudly introduced his latest crop of racers in a team presentation along Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Dozens of sponsors, VIPs, backers and journalists packed in to watch the 65-year-old Belgian hold court.

The 2019 season was a banner year for Lefevere, who’s been in the game as a manager dating back to the 1990s. The team ended the season ranked top of the UCI rankings, won 68 races, with 18 different riders. His new prize is Remco Evenepoel, who, at 19, impressed everyone in 2019, winning five races, including the Clásica San Sebastian and second at the world time trial championships.

“Some people thought I was crazy to bring Remco from the juniors to the WorldTour last year,” Lefevere said. “He proved me right. The future of Belgian cycling is safe.”

Behind Evenepoel, Julian Alaphilippe came the closest as any Frenchman to winning the Tour de France in decades — and the closest of any Lefevere rider as well — while Gilbert won Paris-Roubaix and has carved out four of cycling’s five monuments.

For 2020, he replaces Viviani for Bennett, who’s confirmed his credentials in the mass gallops. Other young speedsters are also looking for their chances, including Fabio Jakobsen, Remi Cavagna and Alvaro Hodeg, all who notched big wins in 2019.

Gilbert is a big loss, simply for the prestige of having Belgium’s top classics rider. Gilbert, however, wanted a three-year deal, something Lefevere refused to offer a rider who will be 38 this summer. Filling the gap from Gilbert’s absence will be Lampaert, Zdenek Stybar and Casper Asgreen, a powerful Dane who emerged as a force with second in the Tour of Flanders. Bob Jungels adds another layer in the northern classics, while Evenepoel will also target the Ardennes classics this spring.

“We will miss Gilbert, but the team will still be strong in the classics,” Asgreen told VeloNews. “This team lives for the classics. We are always 12 to 14 riders fighting to be on the classics team. The team has so much depth.”

On the GC side of the equation, Lefevere has never brought that much to the table, but almost hit the lottery last summer when Alaphilippe nearly rode away with yellow.

Despite Alaphilippe’s incredible Tour run in 2019, both he and the team are not expecting a repeat this July of the Tour magic. Alaphilippe wants a crack at the Olympic gold medal and has vowed to hold back on the GC push this summer.

“No, no, no,” Alaphilippe said when pressed if he’ll race for yellow in July. “The chance to win the Olympic medal is good for me, and to win the Tour is very hard. What happened in July was magic.”

For Lefevere, he continues to plot for the future. His staff continually prowls the junior and U23 ranks, hoping to strike gold. They hit the mother lode with Evenepoel, but there’s always the allure of another strike.

“Every season is a new adventure,” Lefevere said. “Everything starts from zero each year. That’s what we work for, to win these races. Winning never gets old.”