Once upon a time QuickStep and its predecessor Mapei was a Belgian superteam with an Italian flavour. The team rhymed with April and it was often impossible to beat in Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders. In the rest of the season the wins would flow, whether in Grand Tours or smaller one day races, and the rainbow jersey seemed to find a permanent home. The iconic image has to be the outrageous 1-2-3 in Paris-Roubaix. No doubt the champagne flowed as much as the EPO.
Today the team sits in 16th place on the UCI rankings. Yes, the absence of Tom Boonen this summer has cost them points but the whole roster is looking light. Worse, the transfer market hasn’t seen anything too exciting. I still think Gerhard Ciolek is a real prospect for the future, especially when separated from the incompetent management at Milram. But the team’s also announced the lost of Carlos Barredo, that’s a couple of decent wins less per year. Moves to sign bigger riders have failed, the team seems to be nursing a budget that struggles to match rival outfits.
The worry now is that the team is hovering very close to the trapdoor of doom: fall to 18th place or lower in the UCI rankings and you don’t get automatic entry into the big races, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France included. Now they’d probably be sure of an invite but that’s not the point, a once mighty name is in a predicament.
Still, you’d be a fool to bet against them winning a classic in 2011. Boonen was head and shoulders above everyone else in the Spring Classics… except for Cancellara of course.