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Patrick Lefevere — team manager at newly branded OmegaPharma-Quick Step — says he expects big things from his Belgian squad in 2012.
Bolstered by an injection of cash form the arrival of the Omega Pharma sponsorship as well as new team owner Zdenek Bakala, Lefevere says he will finally have the cash to build a complete team that can compete in the classics and fight for the overall in stage races.
“We have always been a classics team. It all depends on budgets. You cannot build a team without the money,” Lefevere told VeloNews. “We have the luck to have found an investor who will allow us to build the team for the next four years.”
The arrival of Czech investor Bakala to the team has given Lefevere the deep pockets he never had. Bakala is ranked as the Czech Republic’s second-wealthiest man, with a fortune estimated at $2 billion, and brings the checkbook that Lefevere needs to sign talent.
Quick Step has long been built around the legs of classics star Tom Boonen, but the team’s focus will be greatly enhanced next season by the arrival of the likes of Tony Martin, Levi Leipheimer, the Velits brothers and Bert Grabsch.
Martin will give the team firepower in the time trials and the shorter, one-week stage races such as Paris-Nice, while Leipheimer will step into the role of GC captain for the longer stage races.
Lefevere says he believes Leipheimer should do very well on the 2012 Tour de France route, with two long time trials and a nice mix of climbing stages.
“We believe in Levi’s chances. He brings great experience and he’s been winning lots of races. He’s at the top level,” he said. “Also, for our sponsors, America is very important, so we wanted a big U.S. rider. He’s a perfect fit.”
In all, 12 new riders arrive for 2012, including six from HTC-Highroad, while 11 riders are departing.
Quick Step’s core classics team remains, led by Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel and Gert Steegmans, with Jerome Pineau, Gerald Ciolek, Dries Devenyns and Niki Terpstra all staying on to round the team’s stage-hunting chances.
Lefevere says the team’s classics roots will remain firmly entrenched and hopes that Boonen will be back at his best for 2012.
Boonen has struggled with injuries the past years, and missed the world championships for the second year in a row after health issues. In 2011, Boonen won Ghent-Wevegel and was fourth at the Tour of Flanders, but Lefevere says he hopes his star pupil will return to the top next year.
“It’s been tough for Tom, but when you’re injured, there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “He has to be back at his best next season. He must.”