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After racing on the back foot all spring, the Belgian squad vows to go down swinging in the “Hell of the North” on Sunday.
Despite a spring of setbacks and discontent, the team vows to race the way it always has on the cobblestones of northern France.
“Our strength has always been to bring three or four riders into the final and play that game,” said team boss Patrick Lefevere. “We hope to do that again on Sunday. I don’t care who the winner is, so long as it is in a blue jersey.”
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Quick-Step is sputtering this spring instead of steamrolling. Beyond its lone victory at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with Fabio Jakobsen in Belgium’s “opening weekend,” the “Wolfpack” has been defanged by illness, injuries, and missed chances.
For Sunday, Lefevere and Co. vow to race it always has and the team will try to push the action forward. The tactics? Attack.
“I think it’s quite easy. You have to see that the others have to ride behind you, and not in front of you. We are not used to being on the defense,” Lefevere said. “We are an aggressive team. If we can use 100 percent of the tools we have we can be confident. We don’t have to panic, we don’t have to be too nervous. Roubaix is a very long race. Even if you have a flat tire or a bad moment, the race is never over. The race is over in the velodrome in Roubaix, but never before.”
Finally firing at all cylinders? Quick-Step is banking on it
Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert, and Florian Sénéchal will go into Sunday as protected riders, but everyone will have their chances. Tim Declercq retains his worker role, but riders like Zdeněk Štybar said Roubaix is always a race that surprises.
“I think the race will show us. I feel from race to race the shape is getting better, not just for me but all of my teammates, and I really expect a different race from us,” Štybar said. “I was on the podium before, but it is difficult for me to say that I will be able to do it again. I hope so. I did start in Roubaix in worse shape than I am now and got a good result, and sometimes I started in good shape and got a bad result. It’s a special race and you have to be a little bit open-minded.”
Asgreen takes confidence out of sixth at the hard-fought Amstel Gold Race last weekend that the worse might be behind them.
“I am at the start so I have a chance of winning, but it will not be easy,” Asgreen said. “I feel like my shape has been good the past few weeks. Not every race has gone the way I had hoped, but I still believe I have the shape I need to win the race. The team’s also been getting closer and closer in every race. The guys did a perfect race in Amstel and Flanders to put me in good position, and I am confident we will do the same on Sunday. I think the chance is there, but it’s not going to be easy.”
Long-time stalwart Lampaert said he is finally feeling close to fully healthy after a spring dogged by illnesses and setbacks.
“There is a bunch of riders who got ill and suffered a lot. It’s taking longer to recover and it’s not easy to catch up with the guys who are in great shape,” Lampaert said. “You try to train a bit too early because the spring classics don’t wait for the sick guys. It’s not easy to start such a high-level race if you’re not at 100 percent. I hope my condition is there for Sunday.
“I think it will be a fast race, it will be dry. Hopefully, we don’t have bad luck this time,” Lampaert said. “We are seven riders who are getting into good shape and we can all do a strong race that I am convinced in. Let’s hope we can come into the final and put the race into our hands. The tactics are difficult at Roubaix, it can happen at any place. Let’s go for the attack mode and not for defense mode.
“I think we have to count Wout van Aert as a favorite. We’ve seen before that he doesn’t need a lot of racing to perform well. Mads Pedersen and van der Poel as well. Ineos is going well, and there are others. There are a lot of things that can happen it’s hard to predict the winner.
“The big difference is we are stuck in the third or fourth line to race, and that’s where a lot of bad luck is happening. We are not used to race in that place, and we hope to take back our place on the first line. We cannot forget we’ve had a problem, and it takes some time to recover,” Lampaert said.
The team isn’t making excuses, but Lefevere said Sunday could be the first time this spring that all of the team’s seven starters will be at full health and in good condition.
“Only God knows,” Lefevere said when asked about the team’s chances. “We are maybe the first time in a long time with seven riders who are not injured or sick, so I hope that Paris-Roubaix will bring us luck. I will repeat myself for 100,000 times that I will not speak about the balance of the spring classics until the end of Liege.
“Maybe for us, it was a good thing that the [race] is a week later, and it gives us time to recover,” he said. “A lot of other teams want to be in our place. We have 18 victories and 13 second-places. For me, it’s more than just the Flemish races.”
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl to race on tubeless tires this weekend
Kasper Asgreen confirmed that the team will race on tubeless clinchers on Sunday.
“We will be riding tubeless tires this year, and we are on the same Roubaix frame. We are happy with that platform and the Future Shock that is up front that absorbs the shocks of the cobbles,” Asgreen said. “The tubeless tires are a great addition to that that allows us to run at lower pressure and that helps us to avoid some of the punctures. I expect a lot less mechanical problems.”