#16 – Team Quick Step (Preview Ranking: #12)
What We Said:
It’s not good when your top Grand Tour rider’s name is Kevin Seeldraeyers. No offense to the guy, but one top-15 finish in a Grand Tour is hardly anything to write home about—especially when you’re from Belgium, a country not known (at least lately) for producing Grand Tour riders. But don’t get me wrong. Quick Step’s not pretending to be a team with serious Grand Tour aspirations (aside from the odd stage win here and there). And besides, if it were taking its Tour prospects seriously, then why make such a public attempt to sign Alberto Contador and his colleagues?
Quick Step’s clearly a team built almost exclusively for the Classics. Last year, the team won the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and the Classica San Sebastian. Clearly, with Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder, Sylvain Chavanel, and Carlos Barredo in the fold, it’s hard to doubt this team’s chances in all but the hilliest of one-day races.
That said, I sense a bit of tension in the house. Stijn Devolder’ won the Ronde the last two years—some might say at the expense of Tom Boonen. Luckily, Boonen’s won Paris-Roubaix the last two years as well, perhaps lessening any potential wounds to his ego. The wild card is Chavanel, a rider who must be getting tired of playing 3rd fiddle. If Boonen and Devolder prove heavily marked by other favorites (or each other), Chavanel stands to profit the most. And don’t forget Barredo, he’s on the verge of rivaling Juan-Antonio Flecha as Spain’s best classics rider; if the cards play-out right, look for him to profit from Quick Step’s numeric advantage in spring races such as Dwars door Vlaanderen or E3 Harelbeke.
Man of the Hour: All eyes will be on Tom Boonen this season as he tries to show the world that he’s not a one-trick pony. Another classic is a must, but some Tour wins would go a long way as well.
On the Hot Seat: Devolder’s got to do more this year than just win Flanders. He’s too talented a rider to rest on his laurels.
Up-and-Comer: I teased before, but 14th in the Giro at the age of 22 is something Kevin Seeldraeyers should be proud of. While it’s still too early to call him the next Eddy Merckx, a top-15 result with little or no support is not something to ignore. Let’s see how he fares this year; then we’ll raise the bar in 2011.
Best Pick-Up: His name’s hard to pronounce, but Branislau Samoilau is rumored to be the real deal. He came to Quick Step midway through the 2009 season. This year he’ll get his first shot at a Grand Tour, perhaps the Giro in support of Seeldraeyers.
Biggest Loss: Quick Step couldn’t win the Alberto Contador sweepstakes, a loss that will be felt this July. Signing Contador and his talented core of riders would have instantly made Quick Step one of the 5 best teams in the World.
What We Saw:
It’s hard to believe that 5 grand tour stage wins (two in the Tour de France), the Tour of Belgium, a Belgian Championship, and a two days in the yellow jersey could be classified as a disappointing season; but for Quick Step, you might be able to make a case for it. After all, this is a team built for success in the spring classics—and for the first time in a long time, Patrick Lefevere’s squad went winless in April.
The season began on the right foot interestingly enough, with field sprint wins for then-Belgian Champ Tom Boonen in Qatar, Oman, and Tirreno-Adiatico. Not too shy about his desires to add Milan-San Remo to his impressive resume, Boonen finished second to Oscar Freire—a disappointment perhaps, but a clear message to the rest of the Belgian’s cobbled rivals.
Back in Belgium and clearly on top of his game, Boonen picked his moments carefully, choosing the traditional Saturday Ronde warm-up in Harelbeke over the newly-positioned Ghent-Wevelgem a day later. In the race, he made the winning break with Juan Antonio Flecha and Fabian Cancellara,his but finished second—a somewhat controversial result in that it appeared as if Tom had not done his homework by studying the run-in to the finish line.
Flanders went much the same. This time though, Cancellara and Boonen escaped the field. Once away, it seemed to take everything Boonen had just to hold Cancellara’s wheel—until he couldn’t, that is. Cancellara rode away on the Muur, not to be seen again until the post-race press conference. For some, second-place in the Ronde is a life’s dream—for Tom Boonen (a 2-time winner and the leader of one of Belgium’s biggest teams) it’s a major defeat.
By now, Stijn Devolder’s inability to help the team was becoming an issue for Lefevere. As the two-time returning Flanders Champion, he completely failed to show and form—along with Sylvain Chavanel, the man many expected to perform well in Devolder’s “absence”. At Paris-Roubaix, the pressure was clearly visible as Boonen tried several times to force a winning selection—only to leave himself exposed to Cancellara’s acceleration 40-kilometers from the finish. Boonen finished the day in 5th. It would be his last top result of 2010, as a knee injury sustained in a crash at the Tour of California would derail the rest of his season.
Interestingly, Quick Step was able to deliver victories in all 3 grand tours as Wouter Weylandt and Jermoe Pineau took wins in the Giro, Sylvain Chavanel took two at the Tour, and Carlos Barredo won one in the Vuelta. In between, Stijn Devolder took the Tour of Belgium and the Belgian National Road and Time Trial Championships. In all, ten riders won races for Quick Step. But of those, five have signed contracts elsewhere for 2011 including proven winners Barredo, Devolder, and Weylandt. Heading into 2011, that’s not a good sign.
Most Valuable Rider: It’s hard to believe that Quick Step had to rely on a Frenchman to garner the majority of the team’s positive attention in 2010, but Sylvain Chavanel did thanks to two gutsy stage-winning rides (and two days in yellow) in this year’s Tour de France. Without Devolder in the fold for 2011, Chavanel will be Tom Boonen’s right-hand man in next spring’s cobbled classics. Does a big win beckon for the Frenchman?
Biggest Disappointment: Maybe it’s unfair to blame Quick Step for its cobbled shut-out. After all, Boonen took two seconds and a fifth at the E3, the Ronde, and Roubaix—it’s not as if they didn’t make an effort. In the end, Cancellara was simply the strongest rider in each race. Of Boonen’s three losses, Roubaix was the most disappointing. After winning E3 and Flanders, it was Cancellara’s race to lose, but Boonen rode as if the pressure were on him to force the selections—he played right into Cancellara’s hands.
Biggest Surprise: While most of Belgium was cheering Jurgen Van den Broeck to a fifth-place finish in this year’s Tour de France, compatriot Kevin De Weert was quietly riding his way into the top-20—Quick Step’s best-placed rider on GC. Considering what was expected (yet left undelivered) from Kevin Seeldraeyers, it was a small consolation.
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