Omega Pharma-Quick Step won a lot of races in 2013, but not enough from its two marquee riders, sprinter Mark Cavendish and classics hardman Tom Boonen.
The Belgian outfit won 55 races last season, with the injury-plagued Boonen winning just two races and the always prolific Cavendish delivering 17 wins in his first season with the team.
For 2014, both are expected to get back on the fast track, with a healthy and motivated Boonen keen to reclaim his title as king of the cobbles, and Cavendish poised to take on all challengers in the sprint to reaffirm his status as the fastest man on a bike.
“I’m very hungry,” Boonen told journalists Thursday at a team media day. “My focus for the first part of the season is on the spring classics. Everyone knows what those races mean to me.”
Boonen was bedeviled by injury, and could only watch as Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) doubled up at Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Paris-Roubaix, with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) picking up the crumbs.
An infected elbow injury over last winter led to a heavy crash last spring, forcing him out of Paris-Roubaix. He didn’t return to racing until July, winning a pair of races late in the season in simply what became a wash to prepare for 2014.
“Tom is very motivated for this season,” said teammate Zdenek Stybar. “He was frustrated about how things went last year. In training, you see he is very concentrated. I know he badly wants to win the races that he loves.”
And those “races that he loves” are the spring classics. Boonen owns seven monuments — four Roubaixs and three Flanders, more than any active rider.
Boonen will debut at the Tour de San Luís, where he kick-started his phenomenal 2012 campaign that led to his second Flanders-Roubaix double.
“As for training, it’s gone very good. It’s sublime. Until now there have been no real worries so that automatically means things are going really well,” Boonen continued. “I’m very happy at the moment and can’t wait to start my season at Tour de San Luis, a race that brought me luck in 2012 and opened one of my best seasons.”
Omega Pharma will bring a strong classics team into the season. Losing Sylvain Chavanel to IAM Racing was a loss, but the arrival of Jan Bakelants and Thomas De Gendt will help fill the void.
Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, and Stijn Vandenbergh fill out the core of the classics team.
“Tom is our absolute leader,” Stybar said. “We will do everything to put him in position to win those races again. If something happens in the race to change that, then we will adapt, but we go into the spring classics riding for Tom.”
Omega Pharma is even more optimistic about what the season holds for the mass sprints with Cavendish.
The Manxman still won nearly 20 races despite having the team’s leadout train a work in progress throughout his first season with the Belgians.
The arrival of Mark Renshaw, his lethal leadout man from their High Road racing days, and Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi will give Cavendish much stronger support in the mass gallops.
“Mark is very motivated for the season,” said team coach Rolf Aldag, who worked closely with Cavendish at High Road. “Mark has a lot of confidence in Renshaw. When Mark has the leadout working, he’s very hard to beat. I am still convinced he is the best sprinter in the peloton.”
Cavendish’s 2013 season was good by any standard, unless you’re Mark Cavendish. Five stage wins and the points jersey at the Giro d’Italia gave him points jerseys in all three grand tours, but he was knocked back at the Tour, winning only two stages while Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won four, including the finale on the Champs-Élysées where Cavendish had won in the previous four editions. Cavendish finished second to Sagan in the fight for the green jersey.
Aldag said it remains undecided if Cavendish will race the Giro, because the team wants Cavendish at the very top of his game for the Tour.
Cavendish said he’s doubly motivated for the Tour because it starts in the United Kingdom, and that the yellow jersey is up for grabs in the first stage.
“For sure the Tour de France is my biggest goal for the season,” Cavendish said during one of his interviews. “As always I have to go and compete on that stage and win consistently. We’ve got an incredibly strong team this year for that. In fact, we’ve almost got too many riders to choose from. We’re in the best position.”
In fact, there will be plenty of debate about which riders Omega Pharma will take to the Tour. Boonen might return to the Tour while time trial master Tony Martin provides key support in the sprints, and it’s likely that newcomer Rigoberto Urán might race the Giro instead of the Tour, giving Cavendish full team support in France.
Team boss Patrick Lefevere said everyone is confident the team will remain on its winning ways for 2014.
“Mark Cavendish is in his second year with OPQS, so he knows the riders and the team he has around him. He will once again be a leader of the team and for sure he is ready to have another great season after an already outstanding 2013,” Lefevere said. “For the next season we would like to continue the winning mood we had in 2013 and of course try and do even better.”