THE WINNING MACHINE
Kittel’s Quick-Step team won more than 50 races in 2017, including 16 grand tour stages. We look at their run of dominance
Quick-Step Floors again won more races than any other WorldTour team in 2017. How do they manage to do it?
For the last six seasons, Quick-Step Floors have ended the year with more wins than any other WorldTour team. By the end of the European season they had 52 wins to their name, and since 2012 the team has never recorded fewer than 50 wins per year.
Launched in 2003 and based in Wevelgem, in the heart of Flemish Belgium, the squad’s heritage may be in the Classics and cobbled one-day races that define the area, yet its success is far from limited to them.
Wins this season have come on all terrain: 16 stage wins across all three grand tours, a monument, five Classics and WorldTour stage races. The floodgates opened on January 6 when Jack Bauer won the New Zealand national TT champs, and continued consistently all the way through to October 8 when Matteo Trentin won Paris-Tours. (As we went to press, Fernando Gaviria was adding to their total at the Tour of Guangxi.)
What’s the secret of the team’s continuous and prolific run of victories?
It’s hard to look past the strength and depth Quick-Step has. This year, 14 of their riders have a win to their name, almost half of the squad. Headline sprinters Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria unsurprisingly top the list with 24 wins between them; 14 for Kittel and 10 for Gaviria. Yet there were also seven wins for Matteo Trentin, five for Philippe Gilbert, three for Yves Lampaert, two for Bob Jungels and Julian Alaphilippe, while Iljo Keisse, Tom Boonen and Dan Martin were among those who had a win this year too.
Quick-Step team manager Brian Holm points to the recent Paris-Tours as an example of why the team has been so successful. The 2016 winner Gaviria was their leader, and a pre-race favourite, but he crashed with 20km to go. Rather than panic, they regrouped, Trentin took over and went on to win the sprint. Niki Terpstra finished third, with Max Richeze fifth and Lampaert seventh.
“We had one clear leader in Paris-Tours: Gaviria,” Holm explains to Procycling. “He sort-of crashed out with 20 to go, but when the leader crashed out we still came first, third, fifth and seventh.
“You cannot take many teams where your leader will crash out but you have four guys in the top 10. I think that just tells you everything about the team. We didn’t have the hotshot, overpaid superstars, just good, solid riders.”
Holm continues: “There is always somebody to take it over.”
Despite having so many riders on one team who are capable of winning at similar races, Holm says it is not a hindrance or difficult to manage. They always have a clear team leader at each race, but try to give every rider the opportunity to go for the win at some point during the season, he explains.
“Every rider in a team should go for the win four or five times a year,” Holm says. “Maybe he doesn’t win but he needs the feeling of fighting for the win.”
Quick-Step’s dominance was no clearer this year than in the grand tours, where they won 16 stages at the three races. It was such a display of consistency and supremacy that the only team to exceed that total in the 14 years since Quick-Step began is HTC-Highroad, who recorded 17 wins in all the grand tours in 2009. The next-best teams this year were Sunweb, who won six grand tour stages, then Lotto Soudal who won five.
The squad was undoubtedly helped by the fact they have two of the best sprinters in the peloton in their midst in Kittel and Gaviria, who split the calendar so as not to race together. Of the 20 stages categorised as flat at all three grand tours, Quick-Step won 13 of them. At the Giro d’Italia Gaviria won four, at the Tour de France Kittel won five, and at the Vuelta a España Trentin stepped in, in the absence of many other sprinters, and won on three flat days with Lampaert adding another. On top of the flat days, another three wins came on hilly stages – one for Jungels at the Giro, and one each for Trentin and Alaphilippe in the Vuelta.
“Of course, we knew Marcel was a good cyclist, the same with Gaviria. Suddenly Matteo stepping up like that – wow. I knew he was good, I knew he would win a stage, but what he did was surprise for all of us,” Holm says. “It just shows our system is working pretty good.”
While there have always been star riders at QuickStep of the calibre of Kittel or the recently-retired Boonen, the squad has been built on a foundation of consistent performers who double as team riders. Names that may not grab the headlines but are always scoring results.
“Patrick Lefevere, he doesn’t have the biggest budget but for sure we have one of the smartest managers in cycling,” Holm says of his general manager. “He’s a smart guy who understands cycling. He started as a manager in 1979 - how many people have survived cycling that many years?”
Holm points to Dan Martin and Gilbert – the latter who joined the team at the start of the year – as the type of quality riders who have given them the edge. Though Gilbert is one of the most successful oneday riders of his generation, before his transfer from BMC last year he hadn’t enjoyed the same success as he had in the 2011-2012 seasons. Yet at the Belgian squad this year he was back on top and
“Every rider in a team should go for the win four or ive times a year. Maybe he doesn’t win but he needs the feeling of ighting to win”
won five races, including a Monument - the Tour of Flanders - and a fourth Amstel Gold.
“The difference this year [has been] Philippe Gilbert for the Classics and Dan Martin. Those two guys are very experienced, super-fast but with zero ego, really team players, who look after the young kids. [They are] good for the motivation,” Holm says.
“They have got that special thing – they are very, very professional but they are also very relaxed and a good laugh.”
Similarly, young talent is developed well. The likes of Alaphilippe, Jungels and Gaviria are all still aged 25 or under, yet have been carefully managed. The Giro was Gaviria’s first grand tour and he raced little over the summer in order to recover, while Alaphilippe was getting top-five finishes at races like the Tour of California and Tour de l’Ain before he was considered for a grand tour start.
“Patrick always says if you have a young kid coming into the team you wouldn’t tell him to dream about being world champion on day one,” Holm explains.
“Step by step, do some smaller races. You don’t start with winning the Tour de France, maybe you start with winning the Tour de Suisse or Tour of Luxembourg. We are quite patient.”
As the saying goes, success breeds success. And once you have that winning feeling the mentality of the whole team changes going into each race. “We go to every race to win,” Holm says. “No race is too small, we always go.”
Gaviria on stage ive of the Giro. He ended the race with four wins
Trentin and Terpstra both on the podium at Paris-Tours
Gilbert’s victory in Flanders was one of the team’s 2017 highlights