The reigning Paris-Roubaix champion was overlooked on the deep Deceuninck-Quick Step roster that will be built around sprinter Elia Viviani, all-rounder Julian Alaphilippe and budding GC contender Enric Mas.
“With such a strong roster available, it was really difficult to pick just eight riders and it is a shame that people like Philippe Gilbert have to miss out, but we feel that this is a really balanced team,” said sport director Tom Steels on Wednesday. “We have three leaders looking for a mix of stage wins and making an impact on the GC, which isn’t easy to mix, but with this line-up and the experience we have we can go far on a lot of stages. We feel this team gives us a great balance and a chance on a lot of stages.”
Gilbert, who crashed out of last year’s Tour in a horrific fall over a wall in the Pyrénées, expressed his frustration at the snub in a post on Twitter.
“It’s with great disappointment I have to announce that I won’t be participating in this year’s [Tour],” Gilbert wrote. “After my crash and early exit last year I was very motivated to return this year. It would have been my 10th Tour, but unfortunately I will have to postpone those plans.”
It appears as if Gilbert, 36, was simply squeezed out as the team brings a mixed squad looking for success in stages and the GC. With only eight spots, the team brings three protected riders, so there wasn’t enough space to bring the charismatic Gilbert.
Instead, the team is bringing support for Viviani in the sprints. The 30-year-old Italian returns to the Tour for just the second time in his career in a quest to win a Tour stage to complete the sweep with stage wins in all three grand tours. Helping Viviani will be trusted pilots Michael Morkov and Maximiliano Richeze.
“We need to remember that it is his first time in years at the Tour,” Steels said of Viviani. “He has proved himself as a grand tour stage winner, but this is the Tour and with a full team behind him, he will need to stay calm and can hopefully take his opportunity with both hands. Maybe it will be difficult to go for the green jersey, but we will see day by day, as he’ll target stage wins.”
“With the TTT being in Belgium and us being a Belgian team with Belgian sponsors, it is a big target and we have a squad that can do well there,” Steels said. “Speaking of the TTT, also Yves will be invaluable there, just as in the lead-out. We know he is reliable, always does his job and will be important for controlling the race and being part of Elia’s train.”
“Michael – whose experience as road captain and capacity to organise things are vital – is ready to support Viviani, and together with Max, will be his last two men in the train,” Steels continued. “When it comes to lead-outs, Max is also one of the best in the business and will expertly guide Elia during the stage finale, when things turn really hectic.”
Promising Spanish GC rider Mas, also making his Tour debut, will see support from Belgian veteran Dries Devenyns while Alaphilippe will have a free hand to light up the race. Last year, Alaphilippe won two stages en route to the King of the Mountains jersey.
“Julian is a little bit of a one-man army, a winner who last year took the climber’s jersey in spectacular fashion. With him you are sure to be surprised,” Steels said. “There are some stages, even in the first week, that really suit him, and when the course does suit him, he is one of the best in the world, so we will look for stage wins on those days.”
“[Mas] is our GC guy, but at the same time, this is his Tour de France debut and while he proved in the Vuelta that he can maintain his condition for three weeks, this is the Tour and it’s about learning,” Steels continued. “It is hard to explain what this race is until you have been part of it. Everything is harder in the Tour and he needs to understand that. He will need to be in a good position, even on the flatter stages, which are faster and more chaotic than in other races.
“Fortunately, we have Dries on whom we can rely, as he’ll be Mas’ right hand and will support him for as long as possible. With the experience and the preparation he has had, he is really ready to help Enric.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step for Tour de France
Julian Alaphilippe (27, FRA)
Elia Viviani (30, ITA)
Enric Mas (24, SPA)
Kasper Asgreen (24, DEN)
Dries Devenyns (35, BEL)
Yves Lampaert (28, BEL)
Max Richeze (36, ARG)
Michael Morkov (34, DEN)