When one thinks of Deceuninck-Quick-Step, burly beefcakes barreling over cobblestones come to mind, right?
Maybe not forever. Patrick Lefevere’s “Wolfpack” is quietly amassing a host of riders capable of lighting up the grand tours – almost more than the team can handle, in fact.
This summer saw Julian Alaphilippe again light up the Tour de France with three days in the yellow jersey and a stage win. Just a month later, João Almeida held the Giro d’Italia’s pink jersey for a beyond-all-belief 15 days, ably supported by rising talents James Knox and Fausto Masnada, both who finished in the top-15. Oh, and did we mention 20-year-old Remco Evenepoel, the young man the Belgian nation is hoping will become the next Eddy Merckx?
All of a sudden, Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s cobble crushing collective is taking on a whippety, stage-racing hue, and 65-year-old Lefevere wants to make the most of it before his 18-year-long tenure with the team comes to a close. The veteran Belgian manager recently made clear in an interview with Sporza that he hopes to land the grand tour victory missing from Quick-Step’s bumper trophy cabinet in the very near future, and he has a team capable of doing it.
Two riders stand front-and-center of a theoretical yellow jersey bid: Remco Evenepoel and Julian Alaphillipe. On the assumption that the Frenchman extends his contract beyond its 2021 expiry, who does Deceuninck-Quick-Step rally behind in a GC campaign?
Though Evenepoel likely won’t be ready to challenge for a yellow jersey in his very first Tour de France next summer, Lefevere hopes that the young prodigy will be the man to deliver the yellow jersey that would keep him warm in retirement. However, Alaphilippe is as ambitious as ever and holds the Tour de France as his guiding star, recently telling Eurosport that winning the Tour would be a career-topping dream.
Lefevere has the most unexpected and delicate of dilemmas on his hands, though one that many managers would sell an arm for.
2021 may not be the time for Quick-Step’s Tour de France assault, with Evenepoel and Alaphilippe both holding major ambitions at the Tokyo Olympics, which start just one week after the Tour rolls into Paris. But in the years beyond that, Lefevere may be left managing two equally-talented, equally-hungry riders.
On the one hand, there’s the more experienced and proven Alaphilippe, the darling of the home crowd. On the other, there’s Evenepoel, seemingly capable of anything – at least until his horrific crash this summer – and perhaps crucially, a Belgian prodigy riding for a Belgian manager on a Belgian team.
Would Lefevere send both riders to the Tour with equal opportunity and support? Or if he did, would there be the potential for leadership clashes that mired the lead-up to Ineos Grenadiers’ 2020 Tour de France? Or is Alaphilippe capable of racing for the yellow without a squad of teammates around him, as he did in his remarkable race in the summer of 2019?
Ultimately, it’s likely that pre-Tour form and the parcours served up by ASO would dictate Lefevere’s best option.
A time trial-heavy route such as that of the 2021 Tour would put Evenepoel in the driving seat, whereas the aggressive and explosive parcours of this year and that previous would play in Alaphilippe’s favor.
It’s a conundrum that Lefevere is likely hoping will resolve itself by having Alaphilippe fall back to his traditional line of wanting to hunt for stages rather than GC. But as a point to speculate over, the prospect of Evenepoel and Alaphilippe both racing for the yellow jersey against the might of Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma, and UAE-Team Emirates is one that cycling fans should be salivating over.