WAREGEM, Belgium (VN) — Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s strength will go a long way in helping it prevail at Paris-Roubaix, in what its cyclists say is a harder race than what the Tour of Flanders turned out the be last Sunday.
The Belgian super team is rebounding for the last cobbled classic of the 2019 season. After being sick, both Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar hope to be better. Furthermore, the difficulty of the French race should suit the collective strength and tactical savvy of the seven-man squad.
“It all depends on how the race goes, how the wind is. If it is a headwind, a lot of times the race is a little bit more closed, it will not be a big group going into the velodrome like we saw at Flanders on Sunday,” star helper Iljo Keisse explained. “Normally, Paris-Roubaix doesn’t end with a big group. Sunday in Flanders was a little bit easier. Roubaix is always hard, that’s why I don’t think it will be such a big group for the finish.”
Gilbert, Stybar, and Yves Lampaert lead the team, with helpers Kasper Asgreen (who recently finished second in his Flanders debut), Florian Senechal, Tim Declercq, and Keisse. The seven were presented yesterday at the Quick-Step showroom near Waregem, Belgium.
Just over the border to the south, they will race the 257 kilometers from Compiègne to Roubaix. The race this year includes 54.5 kilometers of brutal uneven cobblestone sectors.
The race could see the team rebound and continue its hot run in 2019, which has seen it win 23 races thus far. Stybar won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Bob Jungels took Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the next day. Julian Alaphilippe won Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo. After Stybar’s E3 BinckBank Classic win two weeks ago, however, the team began to look simply “strong” rather than “super.”
“We have to race like we always do,” Lampaert said. “Offensive, taking initiative, not waiting for the race, but making it ourselves. That is our strength. We never thought we were invincible. We did indeed win a lot until Gent-Wevelgem and then no more, but we were still second with Kasper [in Flanders]. We still have a lot of confidence and we should certainly not panic. On the contrary, on Sunday, we will confront a course that is extremely good for us.”
Fortunately for the team, two of its biggest riders who have been ill are well on their way back to top form. Gilbert fell sick before Dwars door Vlaanderen and though he began the Tour of Flanders, he had to abandon before the finish. Stybar, who finished 36th, was under the weather, too.
“I was rooming with Phil; maybe it passed to me,” Stybar said. “I did all that I could to be 100 percent, to be as good as I can be at the start of Roubaix. Let’s hope that everything will be fine.”
Gilbert is in a similar position, having done what he can to speed the recovery process. “I’ve rested, and I am going to be ready, the condition is still there, it is just a question of health,” he said. “It was not so bad, it was just one to two days that I was empty. Now I’m feeling better — I am fully committed for this coming Sunday.”
The team last won the race in 2014 with Dutchman Niki Terpstra, who is now with Direct Energie and not racing because of a crash in the Tour of Flanders.