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

Procycling - - Contents -

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.”

Writer So­phie Hur­com Pho­tog­ra­phy Getty Im­ages

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

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