Bob Jungels’ smashing victory Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège not only was a personal milestone, but it capped an exceptional spring run by Quick-Step Floors.
The Belgian outfit enjoyed perhaps its best spring run across the classics dating back two decades. Not only did the team dominate the Flanders classics, it stretched its dominion from the cobblestones to the hilly Ardennes.
“This is my best spring ever,” Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevere gushed to Belgian journalists. “It’s still very touching even for an old hand like myself to see how much they fight for every victory.”
As of Tuesday, the team has won 27 races with 12 different riders this year. Quick-Step is not leaning on one or two big winners to get those results. The bounty is shared across the team, with nearly half of the riders coming up victorious at some point during the spring.
It’s sweet vindication for Lefevere who nearly saw the team collapse last summer. But just as he did in the wake of retirements of such star riders as Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen, Lefevere managed not only to save the franchise, but pulled together a team of equals that raced aggressively on all the major dates.
Keys to Quick-Step’s success are that everyone gets a chance to win and that the team brings multiple captains to each race. That is evident by the way the victories are shared across the team. Riders knew that if they played the team card, they’d eventually get their shot at glory.
That multi-pronged strategy paid off handsomely. Of the four monuments raced so far, Quick-Step won two (Flanders, Liège) and finished on the podium in another (third at Roubaix). The absence of an injured Fernando Gaviria cost the team at Milano-Sanremo, where Elia Viviani led the way with a team-best 19th.
“This is how the team works,” Lefevere said. “No one is jealous. And if someone starts racing in a jealous way, I kick them off the team.”
The team’s dominance was uncontested in Belgium. Quick-Step won nearly every major race on home roads since late February. After coming up short in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (fifth with Gilbert) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (12th with Lampaert), Quick-Step steamrolled the remainder of the Belgian calendar. Pieter Serry’s fourth-place finish at Brabantse Pijl was the only Belgian race Quick-Step didn’t win since late February.
Niki Terpstra got things rolling to open his amazing classics run at Le Samyn in late February before winning at Harelbeke and Ronde van Vlaanderen. He then finished third at Paris-Roubaix.
Remi Cavagna, 22, won Dwars door West Vlaanderen in early March to become the first of a handful of Quick-Step newcomers keen to take full advantage of their opportunities. Fabio Jakobsen, 21, won Nokere Koerse in mid-March and then stunned the veterans — many of whom were ejected for a train crossing incident — at Scheldeprijs.
Alvaro Hodeg, the 21-year-old Colombian speedster, won Handzame Classic as well as a stage at the Volta a Catalunya.
“We have a bunch of young lions ready to step up,” Lefevere said. “We have all of them driving in the same direction to help each other win.”
Viviani won Driedaagse De Panne in March before taking a tearful second to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) at Gent-Wevelgem. In fact, Sagan was the only rider who could challenge Quick-Step’s domination on the cobbles. His emphatic victory at Paris-Roubaix came at Quick-Step’s expense in what was the team’s lone hiccup in the northern classics.
Yves Lampaert, 27, confirmed his captain status with a well-deserved win at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
The climbers took over for the Ardennes classics, where Julian Alaphilippe won at Flèche Wallonne and Jungels barnstormed to the Liège victory. Amstel Gold Race eluded them, with Alaphilippe coming home in seventh.
It will certainly rank as what Lefevere likes to call his “grand cru.”
“We should almost just quit now because it will be hard to be as good again,” Lefevere joked. “We knew the best way to win races was to attack, and that is what we did all spring.”
Perhaps the rider who missed out most on the Quick-Step party was Gilbert. In several scenarios, it was the presence of Gilbert lurking in the chase group that allowed his teammates to win. The 35-year-old didn’t win this spring, but he did score podiums at Harelbeke (second) and Flanders (third).
Like most of Quick-Step’s classics crew, Gilbert will take a breather before returning for important dates later in the season.
Quick-Step now turns its focus to the Giro d’Italia. With such a heavy emphasis on classics, one-day racing, and sprints, the team admittedly won’t be in the hunt for the pink jersey. Jungels, twice in the top 10 at the Giro, will race at the Tour de France this year along with Gaviria.
For the Giro, Quick-Step will be counting on Viviani to keep the party going in the bunch gallops. Enric Mas, 23, will have freedom to try to prove what he can do in the GC.