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The Belgian squad that usually dominates the spring period, particularly on the cobbles, has suffered a lackluster March and April on home soil. Even Julian Alaphilippe couldn’t assuage the disappointment and get the spring back on track at Flèche Wallonne this week.
With Liège-Bastogne-Liège almost upon the peloton, the opportunity to turn the team’s classics campaign around is almost over. Evenepoel believes that the elusive spring win is tantalizingly close and the team has not given hope up yet.
“Of course, the team is in a difficult situation because we didn’t win any classics. But I think in the last weeks we were up there again, coming closer and closer to a victory,” Evenepoel said in a team press conference Friday.
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“So, it’s not that we are nowhere – we always try our best and we always try to make the race hard as well. It’s strange to say that you cannot win everything because for this classics period we didn’t win anything, but there’s still more to come.”
Quick-Step’s difficult spring has not been for want of trying and the team has pushed for a result. The team did win at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with Fabio Jakobsen but that has been its only shining moment.
Most recently, Evenepoel was in the key move that contained the race winner, though he was missing the punch he needed to follow Magnus Sheffield when he attacked. Meanwhile, Alaphilippe was right where he needed to be on the Mur de Huy at La Flèche Wallonne, though he finished just off the podium after being dropped over the toughest section of the climb.
“We were hungry in Brabantse Pijl and also in La Flèche Wallonne, so I think we are still really hungry for this last of the spring classics,” he said. “We really want to fight and to try to do the best we can this Sunday. The bunch is very strong, but we are strong as well. We won’t be there just to fill up the bunch, we will try to win the race, that’s for sure.”
First time at “La Doyenne”
Evenepoel is making his long-awaited debut at Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday in what is his fourth season as a professional.
The 22-year-old Belgian trained in the region ahead of last year’s race as he was preparing to make his season debut at the Giro d’Italia a few weeks later — his 2021 campaign was delayed following a nasty accident at the 2020 Il Lombardia. Though he has seen the roads, it will be very different under racing circumstances.
“That’s why it’s so important that Julian is there, he knows how to ride this race. I can learn a lot from him, like knowing where to ride at certain times. That will make it a little easier for me,” Evenepoel said. “I feel good in any case, and I have worked towards this period. What I felt on Wednesday [at La Flèche Wallonne] was good and I hope to be at the front on Sunday. That is what the team expects.
“It can’t be the preparation and I’m not sick, so that can’t be an excuse. Hopefully, I will be spared bad luck. I want to finish as close as possible and preferably number one, but if it doesn’t work out this year, I hope there will be many more opportunities. I think I can still race for a while, and I want to come back here every year.”
If Quick-Step wants to end its difficult spring on a high, it will have to pool its resources and make sure that Evenepoel and Alaphilippe dovetail their efforts.
Asked if he planned to try a long-range attack from the bunch, Evenepoel didn’t rule it out but said that it would have to be the right thing to do.
“It depends. I still have teammates who can break open the race and another leader with Julian Alaphilippe,” he said. “We both rode a perfect race in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, we were constantly together. That won’t be a problem on Sunday either. It’s a long race, everything will depend on how strong the legs are in the final.
“We will look at it together, we agree tactically and understand each other. There are many ways to approach it tactically. If it turns out that an attack might be the right choice, I will. If it turns out that we should wait until the last climb, then I will too. The wind will play a part. If you go too early, you can knock yourself out, but it looks like the wind will be right in the final.”