The struggles for the Belgian powerhouse seem to have no end. Julian Alaphilippe crashed in a freak, mid-race crash and then Remco Evenepoel was a marked man as Ineos Grenadiers ganged up to win the Belgian race.
“I knew it would be difficult with three men from Ineos in the leading group,” Evenepoel said. “One of them was always stuck on my wheel.”
Team officials indicated that Alaphilippe was not seriously injured in the mishap with one lap to go. Race officials were letting team cars pass the bunch to get behind the breakaway, but riders fell like dominoes as the pack and cars tried to squeeze through the finish line on the bell lap.
In fact, it was a Quick-Step car that took out Alaphilippe, who suffered some scrapes and later abandoned the race. Officials say he will be able to race at the Ardennes classics next week as planned.
Time running out for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl in the spring classics
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl was hoping to turn things around at Brabantse Pijl and the midweek classic that saw Alaphilippe and Evenepoel join the fray.
So far, the cobble-bashers have struggled to produce much payback for team boss Patrick Lefevere on the bumpy roads the Belgian team has long ruled with an iron fist.
The team’s lone win came in a final-moment bunch sprint won by Fabio Jakobsen at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in the “opening weekend.” Since then, the “Wolfpack” has lost its snarl.
Sunday’s edition of Paris-Roubaix will be one more chance for the likes of Kasper Asgreen and Florian Sénéchal, but as Lefevere likes to say, the balance of the spring classics won’t be made until Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 24.
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If Wednesday’s ride was meant to get things going back in the right direction, the team could only manage to put Evenepoel in position to win.
The problem was he found traffic with three Ineos Grenadiers riders, who played cat and mouse with him, covering his every attack, before Magnus Sheffield rode away with a solo attack in the closing kilometers.
“They knew I would attack,” Evenepoel said. “I cannot blame them. When you have numbers like that, you have to keep an eye on the strongest riders. I don’t even know if I was the strongest today, but I was good enough to be there, just not enough to win.
“To be honest, I don’t know [Sheffield], but he certainly surprised me,” he said. “Ineos was the strongest team today and it deserves to win.”
Evenepoel also apologized for shoving Ineos rider Ben Turner out of the way during the race when he was pulling through. He said “things like that” should never happen and said he apologized to the U.K. rider after the race.
To add insult to injury, his chances for a top finish were spoiled when Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) crossed his line in the final sprint for the leftover spots, and he settled for sixth. Not bad for his first crack at Brabantse Pijl, but victory is the only thing that counts inside the team bus.
Evenepoel is hoping the team can have better luck at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where Alaphilippe will be one of the favorites.
“Flèche is our next target. We are having a bit more trouble in the one-day races these days, but Ineos and Jumbo-Visma are very strong,” Evenepoel said. “I am not saying we are not going to try, but we have to accept it, and keep turning the pedals every time.”