Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl is still the sheriff of Flanders.
Patrick Lefevere’s Belgian brawlers ride toward the “opening weekend” unintimidated by the growing strength of Wout van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma crew or the newly bolstered Trek-Segafredo and EF Education-EasyPost outfits.
As far as Quick-Step is concerned, there’s only one “pack” that matters.
“Things will be a little different with the other teams [being stronger], but everyone knows we’re dominant in the Belgian classics. It’s become a habit that everyone looks at us, and that won’t change this year,” team director Rick van Slyke told VeloNews.
Patrick Lefevere’s “wolfpack” has made it a custom to crush the classics and dominate the win-tally all season long.
Last year, Kasper Asgreen won the Tour of Flanders and the E3 Classic. Meanwhile, Julian Alaphilippe, Davide Ballerini, and Zdeněk Štybar all scored in some of the biggest races of the spring in the years before that.
Quick-Step is confident it’s going to remain the chief on the cobbles, despite a radically reshaped landscape in 2022.
Jumbo-Visma brings heavy artillery to van Aert’s side with riders like Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte. There’s a whole new battalion behind Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven at Trek-Segafredo. And EF Education-EasyPost has maximized its muscle with a stack of new signings to support Michael Valgren and Alberto Bettiol.
Meanwhile, Quick-Step has lost Alaphilippe to the Ardennes and a recent COVID-positive for Asgreen puts the Dane’s form in doubt.
- Asgreen COVID-positive brings Quick-Step sweats
- Alaphilippe bypasses Flanders in road to 2022 Tour de France
Nonetheless, Lefevere was bullish as ever when he batted away the “threats” this weekend.
“We saw the training values of Kasper Asgreen, he has become even stronger … In addition, we have Ballerini, Sénéchal, Štybar, and Lampaert who are riding well. You can go to war with that,” Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad.
“I am certainly not afraid of Jumbo-Visma. I am Patrick without fear. We are ‘the Wolfpack’ – the rest should be afraid of us.”
Strength in numbers
Whether they like it or not, Asgreen and Co. won’t be the only pack on the pavé when the classics kickstart at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad next weekend.
Van Aert is rival number one now that question marks hang over an injury-addled Mathieu van der Poel.
The Belgian champ has been left short-handed throughout recent classics campaigns but has still brought his under-powered Jumbo-Visma team victories across monuments and marquee classics.
This year, Jumbo-Visma’s newbies and the returning Mike Teunissen will give van Aert’s crew the option to “flood the zone” a la Quick-Step.
“The classics are races where it’s hard to always only play a single card,” Jumbo-Visma director Grischa Niermann told VeloNews.
“We want to win monuments, we want to win classics and that’s why we went for these new riders. Wout, of course, is our clear leader for the classics but now we have a few other weapons. Christoph [Laporte] is is a really good classic rider. He’s really fast. And if you bring him to the finish, he can also win the race and that gives us more cards to play, more ideas.”
‘We can manipulate the race’
It takes more than a few new signings to disconcert the grizzled cobble-bashers that racing and direct Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.
A deep mine of experience both on the road and in the team car sees it dripping confidence ahead of the pride-winning, kudos scoring “opening weekend.”
Whatever any of the classics’ new super squads try, the “wolfpack” is sure it will have an answer.
“If they come out to control the race it might be easier for us if they look at us that we can manipulate the race. And if they don’t look at us, we can do our own thing and disorganize the plans of the others,” van Slyke said. “So there’s no pressure on us. We will keep racing to our strengths and do our thing.”
Quick-Step has long played sherrif over the cobblestones.
And as far as Lefevere and co. are concerned, there won’t be a new chief in town this spring.