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Held to Higher Standards

Cycling’s imagery means that thoughts of spring don’t always turn to blooming flowers and warmer weather but instead generate dark images of leaden skies and muddy fields, Belgium at its most dismal. Another theme is the omnipresence of the Etixx-Quickstep team. The name has changed over the years but story remains the same, a team expected to deliver big results ahead of every other team. While some squads are delighted with a podium placing this one risk being blasted for “losing” the race should a rider come second.

It’s habitual, traditional. Once upon a time it was called the Mapei team then the Belgian component split to become Domo-Farm Frites before Quick Step appeared as a sponsor and this become Omega Pharma-Quick Step and today’s Etixx-Quick Step. Listing their results would take too long but two stats tell plenty: they’ve had 12 wins in Paris-Roubaix and eight in the Ronde van Vlaanderen since 1994: 20 wins in the last 20 years.

A picture paints a thousand words and the Mapei 1-2-3 in the Roubaix velodrome has become iconic. In fact the team has taken a 1-2-3 three times in 1996, 1998 and 1999. The team has delivered like no other outfit and it’s become the reference point such that if someone else wins then the Belgian media talk about Quick Step “losing” the race.


The pressure on the team to win is enormous and now ratchets up even more. Time is running out for the cobbled specialists: once Paris-Roubaix is done in ten days’ time that’s it for 2015. It marks one of the rare cliff-edges on the calendar where teams and riders can’t shrug and hope for a result next weekend. Feverish Flemish newspapers track every move, route recon rides make the evening news bulletins, private lives are made public in gossip rags.

The team need that big win and soon. Gianni Meersman’s victory in the Handzame Classic isn’t enough and the team’s 1-2-3 in the Ronde Van Zeeland Seaports almost invokes pity; once the team could get a 1-2-3 in Paris-Roubaix, now it’s in a modest 1.1 race. Yet this again shows the standards by which the team is judged.

Normal vs pas normal
Interestingly if Quick Step do place three riders up the road it’s normal, expected and almost unremarkable. Gewiss-Ballan’s Flèche Wallonne triple is seen as symbolic of the rise of EPO but Mapei’s tripled triple in Roubaix rarely invited the same questions and over the years Quick Step has skipped over doping stories with the same ease they ride a pavé sector. Let’s stress it’s not because of any current topics, rather a past where they signed Richard Virenque or saw Paolo Bettini win every hilly classic going for years, surely on a diet of more than bread and water. Yet nobody seems to ask Patrick Lefevere the same questions that get regularly put to others. Today we expect three Quicksteppers in the front of a cobbled classic but should another squad manage it what chance Twitter might erupt with conspiracy theories? I don’t want this piece to disappear too far down the dopage rabbithole but again it’s another take on how the team is seen and the expectations, no?

Stijn time
Back on surer ground Stijn Vandenbergh makes an instructive case study. Fourth in the Ronde and the E3 Harelbeke in 2014 he can hang with the best in the hardest spring classics. Yet he’s absent for the rest of the year; there was only one other top-10 in 2014 and that was in the Tour of Qatar, a proxy Belgian race. It’s the same in previous years, a stalwart of the top-10 in the Flemish classics but almost never in the top-50 for the rest of the year, chart the results over the year and April looks so different. He’s a classics specialist, that most narrow of niches.

The specialism is visible. At 1.99m Vandenbergh, one of the tallest in the peloton. His team mates are often taller than the rest too so much so you’d back the Quick Step team to win a World Tour basketball tournament. Niki Terpstra is 1.85m. Tom Boonen 1.92m. Guillaume van Keirsbulck 1.92m. Zdeněk Štybar looks small in comparison but he’s still an above average 1.83m. This isn’t by accident, tall and heavy riders can pound the cobbles rather than take a pounding but such bulk is a penalty for so many other races.

The Future (short term)
With two big targets remaining Etixx-Quick Step need that big win to ensure the spring of 2015 isn’t defined by losses to Ian Stannard and Luca Paolini. It’s tempting to spot a case of “too many chiefs and not enough indians” where the team has numerical superiority in the finish of a race but hasn’t turned this into a win. Having numbers in the finish is a comfortable position, it increases the odds of winning and almost guarantees a podium place, a position every other team would love to have. Yet Quick Step risk being blasted for “losing” the race because of this, once again an example of how they’re held to higher standards.

Looking ahead Niki Terpstra seems the team’s best bet but everyone is wise to his tactics of going solo late in the race. Can he risk a sprint? He did beat Geraint Thomas in Wevelgem but that was after Thomas had been softened up by Vandenbergh and after an exceptional day too. If Terpstra is a diesel Vandenbergh is a truck, often strong but with no evident acceleration or punch. Meanwhile Štybar is the golden protégé of team owner Zdeněk Bakala but his wins so far have come on hilly days, he’s much more than a flatland specialist. All are invaluable but now let’s imagine these three riders make it to the final 10km of Paris-Roubaix in a move with Geraint Thomas, Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan, Sep Vanmarcke and John Degenkolb. Sudddenly a win would be a giant result. Tom Boonen is missed and, no, he won’t be riding Paris-Roubaix. He’s only just started riding again after his Paris-Nice crash.

Needed urgently

The Future (long term)
Images of Mapei 1-2-3s stick in the mind and they’re reinforced by Boonen’s prolific success in recent years but that’s the past. Can the team continue to deliver? Yes because the team has an economic rationale to perform in March and April. There’s self-sustaining business cycle where landing results in the spring classics brings valuable publicity – TV audience shares can be 75% for a race in Flanders – so the team rationally invests in specialist riders for the spring classics. Focussing on the cobbled classics pays real dividends for this team in a way that it wouldn’t for others. Take FDJ’s Marc Madiot who loves the spring classics but a win in Le Tour des Flandres would be almost unnoticed in France; the race isn’t even shown on public TV; Ditto Geraint Thomas’s recent success which, scanning the British newspapers, didn’t generate much interest. As long as the Belgian media give lavish coverage to these races it will pay to be omnipresent.

Etixx-Quickstep wins races all year round but when it comes to March and April it’s held to higher standards than the rest thanks to a rich history of wins and a local base. This focus is deliberate, the team knows that meeting domestic demands brings a publicity pay day. Etixx-Quickstep’s focus on the cobbled classics is like no other and reaches the point where expectations are piled so high they become almost impossible to meet, finishing on the podium gets described as losing in next day’s newspapers. Win or risk looking like the fools of April.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • StevhanTI Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 3:53 pm

    Prime illustration of all that here: http://sporza.be/cm/sporza/wielrennen/1.2290411
    Boonen joining his team mates on a Flandres recon is big news these days. I guess it’s just a form of PR and pshychological warfare towards the Roubaix oponents.

    Also, don’t forget they quite literally bought Boonen after his first neo-pro year where he was chasing Musseeuw so hard on the Roubaix cobbles that his then teammate and captain George Hincapie couldn’t follow him.

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:24 pm

      Yes and the team has had on and off truces about recruiting from rival teams. They took Boonen from Bruyneel/Dirk De Mol and I understand there was an argument and settled by an agreement not to poach riders from each other’s team. This was broken when they took Kwiatkowksi from Radioshack, he was seen as too good to miss.

  • Roel Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 3:53 pm

    Sadly, it is ‘bon ton’ not to mention any doping allegations in Belgian media when it concerns a Belgian team and/or rider.

    • Andrew E Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:43 pm

      Yes, I did wonder about the wisdom of pointing out the teams three 1-2-3 results. 1996, 1998 and 1999 stick in the minds of cycling fans for much more unsavoury reasons in that period.

      • Anonymous Thursday, 2 April 2015, 2:01 am

        What ever..

        • PT Thursday, 2 April 2015, 1:01 pm

          That Mapei 123 result will always look like a disgrace to me. A symbol of darkness.

          • Anonymous Friday, 3 April 2015, 2:17 am

            Doping was legal until 1960; completely accepted withing the bunch until…. sometime in the distant future. It’s a fact; maybe that sucks, maybe it doesn’t as much as is PC at the moment, I don’t know anymore. But, what I do know, is that if the IOC, all sports governing bodies, and everyone in between wanted to eradicate doping, they could. It would take draconian measures, but it could be done.

            So, best just to sit back and be glad that you, as a mere mortal, just have to remain faithful to your partner, obey the laws and work diligently without stealing any office supplies. It’s just another form of entertainment.

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 4:02 pm

    “a win in Le Tour des Flandres would be almost unnoticed in France; the race isn’t even shown on public TV” – oh no! I’m in France for the Easter weekend and was hoping to watch. Illegal feed it is then.

    Thanks for the focus on Stijn Vandenbergh. I was thinking about his presence in the classics recently. He seems to be treated as a bit of a donkey by his team and also commentators: just a work-horse for the riders with more élan and without possessing tactics. But then he is so often at the business end of races.

    • Gargatouf Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 5:55 pm

      I thought that was a bit weird as I used to watch it as a kid before I moved to England, and a quick Google search showed me that France 3 will indeed show it.

      However, it will only be for a couple of hours though. Program starts at 15.20 so you’ll be lucky to get the last 50kms.

      It will be on Eurosport all afternoon though from 12.30.

      • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:26 pm

        Good that’s on, Eurosport have been promoting exclusivity in France. It might not be live on France3, I seem to recall trouble last year because they showed it with a 20 minute delay or so.

  • King Boonen Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 4:27 pm

    Is it not just that everyone assumes QS are doping so don’t bother asking?

    I think a win in either race will be a huge result at the moment and I really hope they animate both of them. Stijn seems more like a train! Stick him on the front and just cost behind him.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 5:07 pm

      They probably are doping but when you look at their team a 1-2-3 isn’t a ridiculous proposition because they have 4 riders who would step into the leaders role at pretty much any other team.

      Imagine Stybar, Boonen, Terpstra filling the podium of Ronde or Roubaix, then imagine Roelandts, Debusschere, Bak or Vanmarcke, Tjallingii, Tankink or GVA, Oss, Burghardt…

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:27 pm

      Each to their own assumptions, it’s more the curiosity of the variable treatment of each team.

    • Andrew E Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:49 pm

      To me it seems inevitable that Etixx QS will animate, if not drive, both races. I see them having multiple riders in the final both times. But then it an interesting and emerging sport watching how many ways Etixx conspire to lose from positions of strength these days. I can imagine their faces now if they’ve dragged along a sprinter or two or someone who has lurked at the back like Paolini who than snatches victory from them. The problem for Etixx is they have too many good riders and so no one favourite to ride for.

      • Adam Thursday, 2 April 2015, 11:44 am

        I think this is a major part of the problem. All the other teams expects Etixx to be the main protagonists in the spring classics and will sit back and wait to follow their moves. When you’ve got the raw strength and speed of Tom Boonen to ram home a win through brute force then that’s fine, but when the field is a bit more closely matched then the extra effort that Etixx have expended driving the race can cost them the win in the final kilometers.

  • channel_zero Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 4:38 pm

    Yet nobody seems to ask Patrick Lefevere the same questions that get regularly put to others.

    Indeed. As mentioned, his squads have done very well in “the dark years” and equally well in the “new clean peloton where only a few bad people dope.” Which was supposed to be what “the dark years” were supposed to be post-Festina.

    It seems like the UCI is managing the image of a sport, (ex. WWE) rather than protecting a sport’s integrity.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 5:13 pm

      Van Mol and Ibarguren are two of the team’s doctors…

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 5:18 pm

      A sport does not stand apart from the practices of its athletes, coaches, teams, sponsors, fans, and so on. To defend it’s “integrity” is to treat it as reified myth.

      • channel_zero Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 9:47 pm

        An American analogy in baseball is Pete Rose. There’s a guy that never bet against his team, yet was thrown out of the game for gambling on baseball. He’s still out of the game and the federation apparently hasn’t forgotten.

        That is a case of the federation protecting the integrity of the sport. The UCI itself was protecting Armstrong. Cycling has all kinds of bad people that clearly compromised the integrity of the sport and remain at the highest level.

        Protecting an image, not a sport.

    • Anonymous Friday, 3 April 2015, 2:21 am

      All sporting bodies are managing the image first and foremost and the “new clean peloton” is a myth.

  • TDog Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 4:40 pm

    Etixx has been omnipresent in the finale with numbers at the Spring races this year. However, they have lost Wevelgem, E3, Dwar Door Vlaanderen, Le Samyn despite having numbers or the highest caliber rider in the finale. No question they are getting their chances. The win rate this Spring is lower than it should be given their presence. I expect they will pick off a win at de Ronde or PR.

    Ain’t Spring though without Boonen or Canc

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:30 pm

      As you say they are still scoring high, they just lack that big win. Take the big Flemish classics with the Omloop, KBK, E3 Harelbeke, Wevelgem, the Ronde, Scheldeprijs and Roubaix last year they finished no lower than 5th in all of these races in 2014. So far it’s 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd and we’ll see what the next 10 days bring.

      • Andrew E Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:51 pm

        No one remembers who was 2nd.

        • gabriele Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 9:38 pm


        • maximflyer Thursday, 2 April 2015, 7:24 am

          If you meant no one in the broader audiance, maybe. But we’re following a niche-blog here, so surely everyone will remember the podium placings at least in the monuments.

        • Ron Thursday, 2 April 2015, 6:25 pm

          I’d say this is completely untrue these days. Sure, winning is what counts and everyone wants that top podium step. However, the modern peloton is widely accepted as being at a much higher level overall than the peloton of old, doping, drugs, et al aside. Everyone racing is very, very good, not too many goats left.

          That means it’s extremely hard to win a one-day race. I’d say consistent podiums is still very impressive. Hey…I’m sure Cofidis or Wanty would LOVE those placings that QS has this year.

        • Ronin Friday, 3 April 2015, 4:43 am

          No one must have a photographic memory or be some kind of obsessed sports fan, because I rarely ever remember who is second.

      • Adam Thursday, 2 April 2015, 11:52 am

        That’s precisely my thoughts. Etixx have only lost by small margins this classics season and you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be in contention in the final kilometers of both Flanders and Roubaix. A win in either one will be seen as another strong classics campaign from them, especially given the injury to Tom Boonen.

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 5:09 pm

    I can see Ettix going hungry the next two weekends, not convinced Terpstra can bring home the bacon at PR. Boonen running out of Spring’s too, real shame he is missing this one as I thought it could have been his last serious attempt! emphasis on serious. I wonder if they think Thomas would be a good mate for Cav.

    • Sam Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:34 pm

      Thomas is locked in with Sky contractually for a good while longer. Signed a new contract last summer.

  • Dr. Fly Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 5:26 pm

    Enjoyed this writeup very much, esp. the discussion of Vandenbergh. I remember reading an interview with Johan Vansummeren shortly after he won Paris-Roubaix in 2011, where he said that his height (only a cm or 2 less than Stijn) means that P-R is the race that best suits him because of his size and his lack of a sprint or TT ability. Other tall riders, such as Boonen and Backstedt at least pack a sprint or TT that prevents them from being relegated to domestique duty for the remainder of the season.

    EQS’ situation, though, is reminiscent of teams where fans’ expectations are inflated by past successes (e.g., Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke in US college basketball). Wonder if Sky will have the same experience if Froome does not live up to expectations @ TdF this year?

    Minor typo: an extra “by” in: “Yet this again shows the standards by which the team is judged by.”

    • Sam Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:35 pm

      To be honest, I think Sky did meet with the same experience after last year’s TdF flop….

      • Adam Thursday, 2 April 2015, 11:56 am

        Well obviously your undisputed team leader abandoning in the first week is not ideal for any team. I think any expectations on Porte were optimistic at best.

        • Sam Thursday, 2 April 2015, 12:57 pm

          We’re on the same page

          Given Porte’s run-up last year, ‘optimistic at best’ is generous…

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 5:43 pm

    Great Article. How much of this is the riders fault or does the blame lay with
    poor tactics/planning from the DS? Should someone else be given control of the Classics instead of Wilfried Peeters?

  • steve Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:09 pm

    Thomas/Ronde, Vanmarcke/PR

    • Andrew E Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:55 pm

      In many ways that’s a fairytale result. But I don’t see Vanmarcke winning either. He seems to be lacking in the final and his lack of a decent team means he has to do far more work on his own than he would like. Indeed, I think these two facts are related. Thomas is a good call for Flanders and he would be my pick too. But his problem is now people will start expecting. Hopefully he can follow the right wheels and make attacks when he needs to.

      • MD Thursday, 2 April 2015, 4:38 am

        Or is Vanmarcke just being sneaky? Staying hidden like dege in Paris-Nice….

        • Anonymous Thursday, 2 April 2015, 3:17 pm

          2 punctures and a crash at Omloop, pulling your foot out at E3 and falling in the same tactical hole as Thomas and Debeuscherre at GW would seem to be quite high profile ways of keeping a low profile. If he wanted to do that, why pull Van Avemaert and Stybar for 30km over Paddestraat, Lippenhovenstraat and Lange Munte rather than just sit up and roll in with Wiggins et al in the bunch?

  • Augie March Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:18 pm

    Great piece, interesting to note the non-discussion of big wins by dopers in the past, the complete opposite of places like Germany and the US.

    This focus on the classics still doesn’t explain some of the team’s recent tactical decisions such as in OHN where anyone could see that a better strategy would have been for Vandenbergh and Terpstra to trade off attacks against Stannard forcing him to respond and wear himself out while Boonen sat on his wheel until 250m to go waiting to unleash his sprint. Perhaps this pressure has already been getting to them?

    • Nick Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:59 pm

      Would have been risky to start trading attacks, though, with the chase group only 30 seconds behind.

    • gabriele Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 10:45 pm

      “…interesting to note the non-discussion of big wins by dopers in the past, the complete opposite of places like Germany and the US”.
      That happens ’cause Belgian people generally understand cycling way better, whereas in Germany & the US… 😛

  • JC Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 6:42 pm

    I remember ex-dopers always saying it was still possible to win one day races clean, even during the epo years, so perhaps that’s why exceptional performances don’t generate such suspicion, as they would during grand tours?

    • StevhanTI Thursday, 2 April 2015, 4:20 pm

      That’s what they said but then again Musseeuw & L. Hoste for instance both got convicted for doping. Only after they’d hung up their wheels and I don’t recall them getting any big results in stage races’ GC’s.

    • Nick Thursday, 2 April 2015, 11:19 pm

      Though if you look back over the list of Monument winners between the popularisation of EPO and the introduction of the biological passport, it doesn’t look like clean riders won the big ones very often.

      • Anonymous Friday, 3 April 2015, 2:25 am

        I think there are fewer than several consistent clean winners…

      • gabriele Friday, 3 April 2015, 2:32 am

        @ Nick
        What do you mean?

        All the Monuments have been won by riders who were able to win them both before and after the introduction of the BP, hence… 1) they aren’t and weren’t doping, which means that it *was* possible for a clean rider to win a Monument; or: 2) they were and are doping, thus the BP isn’t able to catch them, which means that the same may be going for others, and that implies that the introduction of the BP can’t really be considered a true rupture if we want to establish a relation between victories and clean riders; or: 3) a rider can change his doping habits along time and in different occasions, but, again, that would imply we have really few clues about a rider doping or not in the specific occasion in which he won a classic.

        Example: someone here is supposing that Bettini was doping because in that time every winner was a doper… but how do you know that, given that some Monument winners were never involved in explicit doping accusations? People love the petitio principii… most classics were won by dopers, and they were dopers since they were winning races.
        Let’s see. Starting symbolically with Festina (or Lance’s Tour if you prefer) to 2007, when the BP was introduced. Sanremo, 4 out of 9 editions won by riders who presently haven’t had any doping issue. Flandres, 5/9 (I can’t see as “doping” Boonen’s out of competition cocaine). Roubaix 4/9 (not including Knaven, sorry for Sky, if you trust him just add +1). Liege 2/9. Lombardia 5/9.

        (Things were worst in the ’90s, but curiously enough we still find a few winners whitout doping issues, and a bunch of others with no issues… *for blood doping*: the troubles some of them had were the legacy of the good ol’ times, [products I can’t specify since the website is blocking me]…)

        I’m not saying they were riding clean, I’m saying we just don’t have much to prove that. We simply don’t have the facts, so whatever we want to ruminate on, is just speculation.
        If anything can be said is that, at least, classics offer this edge of doubt, whereas GTs… (also observe Liege’s numbers, a race usually favoured by GT contenders).

  • Andrew E Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 7:02 pm

    I’d just like to point out that the only classics win so far this year for Etixx has been supplied by Mark Cavendish, hardly a cobbled classics specialist. For a team built around being the best in March and April, and with so many potential podium contenders, that’s a poor show. And, no, I don’t count 2nd places. I’ll bet that, as we stand, no one thought Sky would have won more than Etixx QS.

    • Adam Thursday, 2 April 2015, 11:58 am

      Yeah, but let’s be honest, all the semi-classics thus far are just warm up for Flanders and Roubaix. If they land one of those then all will be forgiven!

      Having said that, I don’t think they will…

  • Jonhard Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 10:38 pm

    EQS have been up there in numbers quite often, seems early doors to judge their classics season a failure. The loss of Boonen is obviously telling, and perhaps it’s another sign of a higher standard that they’re expected to shrug it off, more or less. Compare Trek and Cancellara…

    Dare I say Wiggins looked comfortable at the end of today’s stage in the Driedaagse? I’ve a funny feeling he might have a part to play in P-R

  • gabriele Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 10:42 pm

    Speaking of high standards… inrng, I don’t think the Bettini reference is on par with *your* standards.

    I can share a perpsective of endemic doping, but, to me, it really doesn’t make sense to name a rider who, despite various investigations, never got even near to be hit by any solid doping accusation (till now, but, hey, you’ve written your post *now*).
    I think he was one of the few who sued those accusing him, and the court established he was right (I’m relying on memory on this, so maybe I can be dead wrong).
    Not saying he was clean, but, on that basis, you could really name anyone. Bar those three or four little angels *we all know* were riding clean.

    I find it even more inappropriate since you name him side by side with Virenque, who’s got quite a different story. What’s really absurd is that you could find lots of names and episodes to make your point, starting with Museeuw and ending (not really “ending”, it’s just recent and with a “modern” procedure) with Barredo’s BP.
    I don’t know if it’s also fair to say that “they”, the Quickstep structure, were never questioned; there has been all the Yvan van Mol affair which started on newspapers, I think, and they were in a lot of police investigations along the years (starting with the good ol’ Sanremo blitz… I can count at least 6-7 police blitzes in which their riders were caught). You may well have started with GB-MG, even before Mapei, with the wonderful duo Lefevere-van Mol.

    What’s sure is that the team direction, as such, was rarely questioned, if ever; individual riders always presented themselves as working with “external” structures; cycling institutions never put pressure on the team: in fact, most doping problems came out from police investigation, not sport authorities… during all these years, the number of positive tests – usually related to “secondary” substances – is impressively low (even less if you don’t consider Boonen’s cocaine ;-)), especially if we compare it to what, on the contrary, surfaced through tribunal sentences, later admissions and raids. How is it that they were doping hard (be it something organised team-wise or not) and never tested positive? 🙂
    Sincerely, I feel that the problem, here, is on cycling (institutions) ‘s side. Belgian/Italian police and media did their good share of job on the subject.

    • Chrisman Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 10:53 pm

      If there is one team who’s results suggest they HAVEN’T been doping, it’s QS. I’ve only been watching since 2009 so I missed most of the general weirdness, Bettini-related and otherwise. But looking back on the results, many do seem hella weird. Then again Bettini had many lenses of suspicion aimed at him and is apparently spotless. But a final then again is that all the winners of those races in those years were suspect. If you did win clean who will believe you?? On this occasion sadly not me

      • Netserk Thursday, 2 April 2015, 12:23 am

        Well, I have no doubt Bettini doped, but Inrng could just as well have named Boonen (yes, sprinters and classics riders dope too, just ask Zabel, Petacchi, Cipo, O’Grady etc.). If you won big, and often, before Puerto, most likely it was due to dope. Not that it isn’t the case today, but it certainly was back then.

        • Anonymous Thursday, 2 April 2015, 8:08 am

          Absolutely. But a chance is never lost to profile certain kinds of riders, of certain nationalities, in a certain way, and to stay silent about others. What comes out as obvious is that Lefevère is very likely to have had good and special connections with the UCI, which is what I think this article suggests.

          • Anonymous Thursday, 2 April 2015, 10:13 am

            I think it’s safe to wonder if the managers/owners of all successful teams have a good and special relationship with the UCI. This would seem to be a common denominator of a “successful team”.

        • gabriele Thursday, 2 April 2015, 2:21 pm

          “It was due to dope” is technically false, if you believe in endemic doping (if you don’t, accusing the likes of Bettini and Boonen is just nonsense).
          Maybe *necessary*, for sure not *sufficient*.

          That said, again, I don’t see the point in naming specific riders to stress that a team had doping issues… if those riders didn’t have explicit doping issues (I’d call Boonen’s cocaine a “drugs” or “addiction” issue).

          You could as well simply say… “see? Lefevere was around those years, so his teams necessarily were on doping”. What does the name of a rider add to that, if we are just speculating? How big is a big win? 4 times the climber’s contest in the Vuelta and stages in the Tour is obviously not enough… Though, many proven dopers won way less (or nothing at all). Many of those who walked further across the line distinguish themselves for winning big, but *not* often, usually one-shot or so.
          Individual results really don’t suggest anything about having doped (or “how” and “how much”: which can be morally irrelevant, but yes it is relevant “historically” speaking).

          I’d say that if we want to name specific riders to prove a team’s attitude, we should stick to proven facts. A lot surfaced in recent years, so why should we trust mere conjecture, shooting in the dark? As I pointed out, with Quickstep you don’t lack material.

          • Ron Thursday, 2 April 2015, 6:33 pm

            I’d call “cocaine” a fun issue. If you have the money, it’s great stuff.

            I see a drug as a drug as a drug. If someone wants to take a bit of this or a bit of that and go out dancing or walking in the woods, why should I care?

            I think it’s naive to slam Boonen repeatedly as if he took some voodoo poison. I’ve only tried it once, but darn, it was a fun once. I don’t see taking cocaine once at a dance party as a big deal. As an American, I’d bet 50% of adults have either a prescription pill problem or an alcohol problem. I don’t like the demonization of cocaine (how it’s typically sourced, yes, but not the substance itself.)

  • Chrisman Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 10:45 pm

    A large part of the problem is probably Boonen. He’s been inconsistent at best for a good few years now but he’s the golden boy. I’m second-guessing things a bit here but I bet there is huge emphasis/pressure from the Belgian media on this. Cycling is THE sport and QS are THEIR team. From the outside, Boonen should have been moved into a mentor/high-end leadout guy for the next champion a while back. But to the average Belgian punter that’s probably sacriledge.

    Also the too many cheifs theory stands up. I recall much being made of Trek’s multi-pronged GC attack on many occasions. But when they raced it was clear they’d have a better chance overall if they all pulled behind 1 guy. Maybe the guy they are all told to pull behind is Boonen and maybe some guys don’t like that. Maybe if a Meersman or Stybar is given leader duties the likes of Terpstra step in line – new regime, new talent being given a proper shot. But then the Belgians…

    Overall, QS seem to be almost an anachronism – a Classics team in a GT world. Increased focus on the GTs has perhaps put more pressure on them to win the Classics, and it doesn’t seem like they’ve responded well. Lokking at some recent performances the phrase ‘all mouth no trouser’ comes to mind, but that’s too coarse for these refined regions.

    Instead, they need a change of focus. Patrick Lefevre – I know little about him apart from what I’ve heard on here. So obv like most team owners he’s at best grossly incompetent. So get rid of him. He’s probably personally attached to Boonen after all these years. Then get rid of Boonen.

    • gabriele Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 10:59 pm

      Bad guess about Lefevere. I think more or less all the worst about him on a lot of subject, but, well, “incompetent” doesn’t enter in the list of “worst thing” you could possibly figure about the man. And, yes, Boonen is obviously declining, though it’s not so easy to ignore the fact that he’s simply one of the best riders of all cycling history in the cobbled classics (all-times top five, at least) AND that he was paramount for his team victory when, let’s see… twelve months ago. Just as he sacrificed those three or such Monuments during his best years for teamwork’s sake, so, no, he’s not the kind of rider who sinks the team for his personal ambition.

    • StevhanTI Thursday, 2 April 2015, 4:27 pm

      Now if you want to restructure the QS team, I’d Say Fitte Peeters is the man to ditch due to incompetence. It’s the races with him at the steering wheel they botched and when they won KBK Cav lambasted the man for not showing confidence in him during the tactical meeting.

    • Ron Thursday, 2 April 2015, 6:37 pm

      Not sure about you, but I can still picture Boonen’s 53km breakaway ride in P-R in 2012. Not that long ago to me. And Niki won last year. Having to contend with Cancellara is no joke either.

    • Garuda Friday, 3 April 2015, 12:53 pm

      When someone says a multi prong attack, what you are really hearing is we have a team of top tenners but no podium guarantee. Therefore we cannot put our eggs in one small basket.

  • Chrisman Wednesday, 1 April 2015, 11:35 pm

    Last 2 years Boonen has gone downhill and now they don’t know what to do with themselves. More often than not his seasons are disrupted by injuries. Yeah ok I admit he is a warrior and when on form like last year’s PR he is impressive…but how many more of those days does he have left in him? Let’s hope Lefevre does actually have some tactical acumen because it seems they need to sort themselves out quickly before PR.

  • Joel Simister Thursday, 2 April 2015, 1:11 am

    I just can’t see any of them winning PR or Ronde. A good few of them will come 2nd-5th but they appear to be a team with no plan A. Just too many Plan As, a lack of teamwork and none of them have a sprint finish. (Same with Sep, albeit he hasn’t got a team).

    Perhaps that’s why they wanted Kwia, as back-up for later on.

    I won’t bother getting into the doping scenario as it’s unlikely they will have bucked the trend.

  • MD Thursday, 2 April 2015, 4:44 am

    Just hire Degenkolb as Boonens replacement. Tactical nightmare of no sprinter in the finishing bunch solved, they’ll have every based covered….

    • Tricky Hawes Thursday, 2 April 2015, 9:51 am

      Presumably any true Boonen replacement has to be Belgian…

  • Tricky Hawes Thursday, 2 April 2015, 9:42 am

    Surprised to read what you say about the lack of interest in France in the Belgian one-dayers . That doesnt apply to PR though, presumably? Or does it?

    Was certainly – and sadly – true that Geraint Thomas got very little coverage or attention here in the UK for winning E3. There was this BBC piece:

    but precious little else, at least that I saw.

    It’s one result of the the Wiggins / Froome successes etc for cycling awareness here in the UK – there’s pretty high conciousnesss about the TdF here now, at lrast at the moment (obviously fuelled further by the success of the Yorkshire Depart last year). But other races, and especially the Spring classics? No-one other than the hardcore has any clue they’re even going on. Such a shame, given how much more interesting to watch they often are…

    • Sam Thursday, 2 April 2015, 9:59 am

      Even the Times – from the NewsCorp stable – only gave Thomas’s E3 success, a 5 inch single column write up (from a wire). I’d love to see things change.

    • Tovarishch Thursday, 2 April 2015, 10:44 am

      A bit hard on the BBC who had a good (for the non-initiated) introduction to the Classics from Geraint Thomas.

      Spring Classics: How to win cycling’s hardest one-day races.

    • BC Thursday, 2 April 2015, 11:41 am

      Well, it’s France. They have limited media interest in most events which takes place outside their own country. A French classics winner might help change their attitude.

      The ‘Lefevre question’ could legitimately be expanded to a more general question about Belgium in general !

    • tedba Thursday, 2 April 2015, 11:47 am

      Cycling coverage in the UK hasn’t got past the celebrity stage. It’s not ‘tour blindness’ but rather sports editors relying on the celebrity of riders like Wiggins and Cavendish to carry a story. Even Froome doesn’t carry the same weight as those two.

      As a result a race barely gets a look in if there isn’t a strong chance of a British winner.

      It is getting better though.

      • Wheelsucker Thursday, 2 April 2015, 1:56 pm

        Spot on!

        • Othersteve Thursday, 2 April 2015, 7:51 pm

          We here in the US might as well be on Mars.

          You all on or around the old world have so much more access to quality, timely coverage of all
          cycle races. You are lucky.

          • Garuda Friday, 3 April 2015, 1:00 pm

            Yeah if chad haga wins flanders this weekend. He will be mentioned in a small column in american media as “american wins international bicycling race. chard haga wins the tours of flander against a top international field. He says his next big goal is to win the tour de France “

      • Anonymous Friday, 3 April 2015, 2:31 am

        Froome will never carry the same weight as those two. And you can tell him I said so..

  • PT Thursday, 2 April 2015, 1:10 pm

    Would be interesting if the MTN-Quebeca (?) crew really turn up. But so far they haven’t really. Same goes for IAM. Orica (Australia’s Etixx-Quickstep) are missing Gerro – is Matthews riding though?

  • noel Thursday, 2 April 2015, 2:16 pm

    I’m afraid I think Thomas will now be marked out of the two monuments. I don’t think he quite has the power to ride people off his wheel like he will need to.. I can really see Stybar slipping away for one of them tho, and I’d love to see Vanmarke win P-R.
    Wiggo – who knows, I guess he has a chance but I think another top 10 is the most likely (actually 2 top 10’s in 2yrs would represent a pretty credible effort..)

  • Shawn Thursday, 2 April 2015, 2:25 pm

    From a tactical standpoint Quick-step has had a very successful formula: send Devolder or Chavanel or Terpstra up the road and then dare other teams to drag Boonen up to the break. Yes, Boonen has on occasion smashed the field on his own but the wins by others on the team have regularly relied upon Boonen being in the group behind. No Boonen (even a reduced Boonen), no strategy.

  • Larry T. Thursday, 2 April 2015, 6:13 pm

    If Etixx wins either this or next Sunday, nothing else will matter. Until then it’s all speculation, though they have seemed to race like an amateur team of late.

  • TourDeUtah Friday, 3 April 2015, 6:09 am

    Quick Step a one trick pony ?

    I think not. They do plenty well in the GT’s and the Fall Sprint Classics.

    But, then there is nothing quite as sweet as winning on your own turf in front of your fans !

    As to their lack of winning the Belgian classics, it’s not that they are not as good or that other teams are taking advantage of their tactics, it’s that more non Belgian teams and riders are taking these races more seriously than before.

  • RizzaNZ Friday, 3 April 2015, 11:54 pm

    Agree with comments being made about some of the poor tactical decisions, and we are also nearing the end of the Spartacus/Boonan era (although still massive players even if not currently racing). But it seems to me there is allot more dedicated or strong competition at this point in time. Etixx always had power in numbers. Now Sky’s focus on growing a squad of strong classics riders and katusha having a couple of solid riders makes it a bit harder for them to control the race. Also, to give you a better idea of thier recent dominance, consider how they would have done over the last decade if Cancellara was not present. Spartacus is in my view a more dominant individual rider and it was less about his team.