For a Belgian team, backed by Belgian sponsors, racing on Belgian roads, in front of hundreds of thousands of home fans, Sunday is big as it gets.
“Patrick said this week for this team Flanders is almost more important than the Tour de France,” said Belgian star Philippe Gilbert. “We know how important next Sunday is.”
As if the riders needed reminding. Deceuninck-Quick-Step lives and breaths the Belgian classics unlike any other team in the peloton. It dominates the Flemish classics the same way Team Sky controls the Tour de France. With its deep bench and a quartet of leaders, Quick-Step is the team that everyone looks to in the major one-days on the international calendar.
The team’s “all for one, one for all” strategy means it tries to put its riders into every scenario, whether it’s going on the attack or blocking from behind. While most teams bring a singular captain, Quick-Step brings a full quiver of options.
“That’s why we’re the ‘Wolfpack,’” said Iljo Keisse, one of the team’s most experienced helpers. “We have a very balanced team, and we try to have as many as possible in final, unlike other teams who only have one or two guys.”
Quick-Step rides into Sunday’s 103rd edition of Flanders with a solid lineup as it tries to win its third-straight Ronde. Yves Lampaert, 2017 winner Gilbert and E3 BinckBank winner Zdenek Stybar are the front-line leaders, with Bob Jungels replacing last year’s winner Niki Terpstra, who now rides with Direct Energie. Keisse, Tim Declerq, and Kasper Asgreen (a late-hour replacement for Florian Senechal) are the three workers.
The team is overflowing with confidence and believes it has an answer to every curveball its rivals might throw at it.
“We are all prepared and the most important thing is if one of us from the team wins,” Stybar said. “Everyone understands this — we are stronger as a unit.”
While Quick-Step might ooze confidence, it knows it will need everything to go perfect in order to be first across the line Oudenaarde. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) have emerged as the most potent threats, with another half-dozen rivals stacked up behind them.
“If we race well, we can have some of us in final and that’s always better,” Gilbert said. “We didn’t win everything I think other teams also won some races, and we saw the last weeks that teams are also united. We ride smart also. We have to keep it the same, and we win because we are honest with each other.”
The strongest rider almost always wins Flanders. But strength in numbers also counts at the Ronde, and Quick-Step has a distinct advantage over its rivals. It is betting that, if its men ride as a unified front, one will be champion.