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Who?

  • Manager: Patrick Lefevere
  • Squad size: 31
  • Average age: 27.7

Belgian powerhouse QuickStep-AlphaVinyl have been part of the professional peloton since 2003, when a merger of sorts, between the folding Mapei-QuickStep and Domo-Farm Frites, gave rise to QuickStep-Davitamon.

Patrick Lefevere, who had created Domo two years earlier after departing Mapei, has been at the helm ever since, generating news stories and courting controversy on a regular basis, but also steering the squad to be arguably the strongest in modern cycling history alongside his experienced and knowledgeable team of directors, which includes Brian Holm, Wilfred Peeters, Davide Bramati, and Tom Steels.

Since formation, the team has won 106 Grand Tour stages (45 at the Tour, 35 at the Vuelta, and 26 at the Giro) and 11 Grand Tour jerseys, plus 20 Monuments (eight Tour of Flanders, six Paris-Roubaix, three Milan-San Remo, two Il Lombardia, and one Liège-Bastogne-Liège), and 52 other major Classics, as well as having their rider win a rainbow jersey on 12 occasions.

The fact that the team has topped world cycling’s win rankings every year since 2012 (in 2021 they racked up 65 wins, 22 more than any other team) is another measure of their dominant position within the WorldTour.

For 2022, there is little change in the winning formula as almost every key rider returns, with Julian Alaphilippe, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, Kasper Asgreen, Fabio Jakobsen, Zdenek Stybar and more all having signed contract extensions during the year.

Next season, they and their teammates will bear a new name on the front of their jerseys. Ever-present title sponsor, the flooring company QuickStep, is joined by sub-brand AlphaVinyl as ‘The Wolfpack’ take on their eighth different name since their founding.

How did they fare in 2021?

  • Wins: 65
  • UCI world ranking: First, 15641.21 points

You don’t need to check the UCI rankings to guess that the team topped them this year, as they did in two of the previous three seasons. The squad is locked in an eternal battle at the top of the rankings with stage racing teams, while they plough their own furrow and focus largely on sprints and Classics.

In the season just passed it was no different, and the team did just that to stunning effect once again, grabbing 65 victories. The resurgence of Mark Cavendish was a major plotline of the season, his fortunes rising as Sam Bennett’s fell, and culminating in the Manxman completing a fairytale comeback to win four stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France.

Spring saw Davide Ballerini, Bennett, and Kasper Asgreen collect the team’s customary haul of Classics at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Classic De Brugge-De Panne and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, before the Dane joined Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder, Philippe Gilbert, and Niki Terpstra in winning the Tour of Flanders for QuickStep.

Julian Alaphilippe collected a third La Flèche Wallonne win, a sixth stage at the Tour de France, and dazzled in Leuven to retain his world title, while sprinter Fabio Jakobsen completed a comeback from a brutal crash in 2020 to win three stages and the points jersey at the Vuelta a España.

Other major victories in a campaign that saw 18 members of the team pick up a win included Almeida’s triumph at the Tour de Pologne, Bennett taking stages at Paris-Nice and the UAE Tour, Rémi Cavagna’s stages at Romandie and Pologne, and Florian Sénéchal winning a stage at the Vuelta.

All in all, then, the team’s 2021 season was a fantastic success.

Key riders

Julian Alaphilippe: The Frenchman, who in September became only the seventh man to retain their world road race title, is the figurehead of the squad and a QuickStep lifer having turned pro with the team in 2014.

Alaphilippe’s season may not have been as packed with victories as his incredible 2019 campaign, but nevertheless, the 29-year-old had a season 99.9 per cent of riders could only dream about. A clear victory over Primož Roglič on the Mur de Huy was the highlight of a spring which saw him take second at Strade Bianche and win a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Summer brought that unstoppable late attack at Landerneau on the opening stage of the Tour, and another day in yellow to go with his three in 2020 and his two weeks in 2019. Then Autumn saw him take third at the Tour of Britain before that famous ride at the Worlds.

For a rider like Alaphilippe, who is at his peak and who can excel on almost any terrain, the cycling world is still very much his oyster. Next season he looks likely to focus on his favoured terrain of the Classics and stage hunting, though – with his fifth place in 2019 still fresh in the memory – he has hinted that one day he could build a season around Tour GC success.

Remco Evenepoel: The 21-year-old Belgian is the wunderkind of QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, having won major races ever since his debut in the pro peloton at the tender age of 19. This season, his astronomic rise was set back following a long recovery from the brutal crash at Il Lombardia in 2020 but as 2021 progressed he showed numerous signs of being back to his best.

Evenepoel returned to action for his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia where he impressed but also suffered on the gravel and in the high mountains – a step too far, too soon, perhaps. The wins would come, though, at the Baloise Belgium Tour, Tour of Denmark, Druivenkoers-Overijse, Brussels Cycling Classic, and Coppa Bernocchi, almost all of which was marked by some awe-inspiring solo ride or other.

Medals at September’s European and World Championships rounded out an impressive comeback from injury, and now attention is firmly on 2022 and a Grand Tour return, though which one is as-yet undecided. Few riders enjoy their career peak at the age of 21, and with Evenepoel having already achieved so much and promising even more, he might be the most watched rider heading into next season.

Mark Cavendish: Just over a year ago, Cavendish looked like he could be facing the end of his career following a tough few years at Dimension Data and Bahrain, and few would have put any money on the Manxman equalling Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France stage wins in July.

Even in April, when he took out half the stages at the Tour of Turkey, just making it to the Tour looked a long shot with Sam Bennett looking to add to his two wins and green jersey in 2020. But a knee injury and a falling out with the team boss would eventually clear the way for Cavendish to make it to France and, amazingly, win number 34 in Carcassonne.

It was the story of the year in pro cycling, a comeback worthy of a Hollywood film – but for the near-miss on the record-breaking victory on the Champs-Elysèes of all places. Heading into his 16th season – and, yes, perhaps maybe his final one – as a professional, Cavendish, armed with a new one-year deal at the team, will be aiming for 35 next July, though he could face a battle for selection with Jakobsen in the ascendance.

Cavendish’s off-season hasn’t gone at all to plan following his painful crash at the Ghent Six, the resultant hospitalisation, and then a horrific armed robbery at his home last week. But, if the last several years of struggle with Epstein-Barr Syndrome and depression have shown us anything, he can fight his way back to the top from just about anything.

Kasper Asgreen: QuickStep’s Classics squad, as has seemingly been the case for much of living memory, is without equal in the professional peloton. Asgreen heads up the latest iteration of the domination machine alongside Alaphilippe, Stybar, and Yves Lampaert, with the very capable Sénéchal and Ballerini also on board.

The Dane is the latest of Lefevere’s Classics charges to ascend to Classics stardom, having followed up a podium on his Flanders debut two years ago with victory this spring – in a man-to-man sprint against Mathieu van der Poel, no less. The two rides bookmarked wins at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (in 2020) and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic (in March), and now Asgreen looks every bit the team leader for next spring.

Elsewhere, Lampaert was fifth at October’s wet Roubaix and has three major Classics to his name, Sénéchal was filling podiums and top 10s this spring, Ballerini is delving further into the Classics and is already a winner, the veteran Stybar has twice been on the podium at Roubaix and was winning Classics in 2019, and Alaphilippe showed what he could do on the cobbles at Flanders in 2020.

Even if Asgreen doesn’t repeat his golden spring next time out, there are no shortage of contenders at the team.

Michael Mørkøv: Although at a glance it may look that way, not every rider QuickStep is a perennial race winner, but the Dane – along with Belgian Tim Declercq – only illustrates that you don’t have to win races to be a key part of the team.

He might only have two non-National Championship wins on his career palmarès, but Mørkøv has been instrumental in the team’s hugely successful sprint lead out train since joining from Katusha in 2018.

This year alone, he led Bennett out for all seven of the Irishman’s wins and was the last man for Cavendish on five of his 10 season wins, including all four stages of the Tour de France. Whether it’s Cavendish, Jakobsen, or Ballerini sprinting behind him next year, wins are sure to follow in the wheeltracks of perhaps the best lead out man of all time.

Strengths

QuickStep know what they’re good at and they stick to just that. The team is undoubtedly the premier sprinting outfit in the world and they’re also the most successful Classics squad around. In contrast, the other top teams in the peloton focus largely on stage racing with squads packed full of climbers and multiple leaders for several Grand Tours.

The team is a well-oiled machine, featuring a lead out in which every rider is well-drilled in their role, and with a Classics squad featuring several riders who could be solo leaders on most other teams. Everybody is aware of their job, regardless of the race, everybody gets a chance at personal success, and that individual success is celebrated as a collective.

‘The Wolfpack’ started out as a joke via DS Holm before evolving into the key part of the team’s philosophy and branding image, but it is – like it or not – a good summary of the team’s ethos.

Another strength that cannot be ignored is the team’s depth. Sure, not everybody is a superstar like Alaphilippe or Cavendish, but – as noted above – 18 of the 33 riders who appeared in a race for the team in 2021 stood on the top step of the podium at some point. Every rider on the squad is capable of winning, and every rider is willing to help others succeed.

Weaknesses

It feels somewhat uncharitable to pick out weaknesses in what is the most successful squad in the sport over the past two decades, but if there has to be one then it’s clear that stage racing has been the team’s Achilles heel.

That’s not to say that QuickStep have ever really focused on Grand Tour GC success, of course. Some will recall the failed forays into the GC world with José Antonio Pecharromán and José Rujano in the mid-2000s, while Kevin Seeldraeyers, Juan Manuel Gárate and Carlos Barredo also picked up Grand Tour top 10s once upon a time.

In more recent years, Rigoberto Urán, Dan Martin, Enric Mas, and João Almeida have passed through the team, leaving Alaphilippe and Evenepoel as the next great GC hopes. The Frenchman, fifth at the 2019 Tour, might return one day, but it’s Evenepoel who really captures the imagination going forward.

Following his Grand Tour debut back in May, we’ll have to wait and see how he progresses in his second outing sometime in 2022. There are signs, too, that the team is building a squad around him – it’s easy to imagine talented young climbers Mauri Vansevenant, Andrea Bagioli, and Ilan Van Wilder progressing together and accompanying Evenepoel to Grand Tour in the future. Mark this one as ‘wait and see’ for now.

Verdict

Would anyone bet against yet more of the same from QuickStep-AlphaVinyl in 2022? Bennett and Almeida are substantial departures, but the team looks more than strong enough to keep the avalanche of wins coming next year.

With two top-tier sprinters and the peloton’s best lead out train, more Grand Tour stage victories – and many more elsewhere – are all but assured, while Alaphilippe is one of the all-rounder superstars who can bring big wins throughout the season, and the collective strength of the Classics squad will no doubt succeed through the spring, too.

Higher or lower than 65, anyone?

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: Daniel Ostanek
All copyrights for this article, including images, are reserved to the original source and/or creator(s).
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