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Quick-Step falls flat without Kasper Asgreen in Dwars door Vlaanderen

'The level in this peloton is so high that it's impossible to make up the deficit. Apart from Kasper it'll be difficult,' says Stijn Steels.

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The atmosphere in the classics roster of the Quick-Step AlphaVinyl team is cold, to say the least.

In the absence of Danish rider Kasper Asgreen, the Belgian team once again was absent in the front groups during Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. It’s clear that they will not be able to use their classic ‘multiple cards to play’ tactic in the upcoming Tour of Flanders. Defending champion Kasper Asgreen will be their sole team leader on Sunday.

Dwars door Vlaanderen marked the return of Tim Declercq in the team selection. The Belgian super domestique was sidelined for three weeks with heart problems. Obviously, Declercq isn’t the man who will turn the team into a winning side by himself.

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“We’ve got a lot of illnesses and bad luck in the team. The up-and-coming boys probably have that extra edge in terms of punch. Then you can do what you want on those climbs. We’ll benefit if the race has a long finale. It seems the specialists nowadays are more climbers than in the past. Maybe that’s the reason. We’ll see what we can do about that after the classics. Once the races are on it’s difficult to turn the flow around,” Declercq said.

The team’s leaders Wednesday were Zdeněk Štybar and Yves Lampaert. Stybar was unable to follow the decisive move on Berg ten Houte and then tried to set things straight on the Kanarieberg. He was countered by Greg Van Avermaet and Tadej Pogačar and completely disappeared from the picture. Yves Lampaert wasn’t surprised.

“Stybar was also sick after Paris-Nice. Declercq is coming back. It’s one after the other. We’re not in full force. If fifteen riders are up the road and none of us is there then you know enough,” Lampaert said at the mixed zone in Waregem.

The flamboyant Belgian rider was sick too and sets his hopes on Paris-Roubaix as the race where he can perform at his best.

“I’m not doing dramatically bad, but with every hard effort, I get blocked. I can keep going but I can’t go flat out. I lack the acceleration. Sunday will come too soon for me. Early on I felt good and felt like I was racing well but it’s not like it should be. At Berg ten Houte I was pushed into the barriers. I thought my hand was broken. I wasn’t able to squeeze my fingers but it’ll be alright. I ended up in the chase group. My body is blocked when making big efforts.

“We’re running behind, that’s a fact. The rest of the team is suffering the same. Half of the boys are sick. This isn’t a surprise. We’re not at full strength. This isn’t our spring classics season. We’ll have to put all our money on Kasper on Sunday and hope that he’s alright. Personally, I hope to be at 100 percent by Paris-Roubaix,” Lampaert said.

With Quick-Step on the ropes as a team, it is clear they will not be racing in the Ronde as they have in the past.

“Kasper is our man. We have to hope he has a good day. He’s capable of riding against these men. The rest of the team needs to help him as much as we can. We’ll have to follow the moves and try to survive,” Lampaert said.

With Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl not riding in their typical controlling style, the consequence is that the team selection will be different too. Domestiques like Tim Declercq, Iljo Keisse, and Stijn Steels might be obsolete if other teams will set the pace in the peloton during the first half of the race.

“I don’t think I’ll make the team selection,” Stijn Steels said.

“We will not have to control the race which makes me obsolete. Kasper is going really well and he remains one of the top favorites. It’s a cliché but once you start struggling it’s hard to turn it around. The level in this peloton is so high that it’s impossible to make up the deficit. Apart from Kasper, it’ll be difficult,” Steels said.

Asgreen will be the man for Quick-Step on Sunday but if he wins, it’ll be one of the most unexpected wins for the Belgian team on home soil.