Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl is winning in all the “wrong” places this season.
A cobblestone campaign short on success puts “The Wolfpack” under the microscope from the baying Belgian media and at the hammer of head honcho Patrick Lefevere.
“Only” one victory in the northern classics after Fabio Jakobsen won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne left Quick-Step in the unheralded position of underdog and at the mercy of its bike-mad Belgian fanbase.
“I sometimes laugh about it, but it’s actually sad enough,” Lefevere told Het Laatste Nieuws of his team’s cobblestone campaign. “But what can you change about it? Getting nervous or panicking won’t help. We should not start acting like beaten dogs.”
Lefevere’s one source of consolation this spring is that his team’s “other” half is on a tear.
Evenepoel finished second in the opening TT and since then played “MVP,” delivering Alaphilippe to his first win of the season Tuesday ahead of two-second places in the following days in Spain’s Basque Country.
The terrible twosome won’t race Amstel Gold this weekend but head toward Brabantse Pijl, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as top riders to watch in Belgium’s sharp southern hills.
Lefevere is counting on his climbers to turn around a spring gone sour for his northern division.
“I always said the balance will be made after Liège,” Lefevere said.
Kasper Asgreen and Co. have been either derailed by illnesses or off the pace in a classics campaign crushed by Wout van Aert and the returning Mathieu van der Poel.
“We’ve had to change our selections so many times that we’re paying the toll for it,” team sport director Wilfred Peeters told Het Nieuwsblad. “Hopefully we will be spared that bad luck in the Ardennes classics.”
Papering over the cobblestone cracks
Amstel Gold, Brabantse Pijl and Paris-Roubaix are next in the classics calendar, with the rest of the Ardennes races following close behind.
At this point, Quick-Step seems most likely to score in the races some may think matter least to a team famed for its cobble-crushing antics.
A flood of sicknesses in the squad, including a second setback for Wolfpack workhorse Tim Declerq, puts Quick-Step in the corner ahead of an Amstel and Roubaix overshadowed by van der Poel. Contrastingly, Alaphilippe and Evenepoel look all-set to deliver in their season goals at Brabantse Pijl and La Doyenne.
But let’s face it, the Dutch hills and French pavé are no Flemish hellingen in the eyes of Quick-Step’s zealous home fans.
Races like Liège and Flèche have all the history of De Ronde, but don’t hold the same chest-beating kudos as the cobbled classics. Climbs like the Muur de Huuy and La Redoute resonate, but they’re no Kwaremont, Koppenberg or Kemmelberg.
A cobblestone trophy in Roubaix or a monument win at Liège would no doubt salvage the spring, but the misfires from Omloop through Flanders will resonate far longer.
Quick-Step director Peeters’ reaction after his team missed the winning split at Scheldepijs this week says it all.
The cobblestone and crosswind kings have been dethroned this spring.
“An echelon never lies,” Peeters said. “Everyone knew it would happen but we weren’t there. That’s not OK. I sat behind the wheel of the car frustrated all day.”
No matter what Remco and “Juju” do in the Ardennes, it may be just papering over the cracks in the cobblestone cracks.