The Cervélo Test Team was probably the first professional cycling team to invest serious efforts in its social media presence but other teams have not been slow to see the promotional possibilities. One of the best of these is the team, currently known as Deceuninck – Quick-Step. that has led in total wins every year since 2012. The self-proclaimed “Wolfpack” functions at a very high level in terms of teamwork and nowhere is this more obviously portrayed than in the video “The Wolfpack Insider: Tour de France 2020,” which gives an intimate view of the team’s campaign at the grandest of Grand Tours.
Somebody described Deceuninck – Quick-Step (DQT) as a gang of beefy Belgians most at home crushing cobbles but this is a superficial view of a very multi-faceted team. In 2019 Julian Alaphillipe, everyone’s favourite showboater, made a credible run for overall victory at the Tour de France and in 2020 we saw a powerful DQT train haul Joao Almeida around in pink for days at the Giro. After his stellar year before, it appeared that Alaphillipe was not at the same level in this Year of the Pandemic but Monsieur Panache did not disappoint. He is featured in “The Wolfpack Insider: Tour de France,” of course, but is only one of the cast in a film that gives an intimate view of what is happening inside a team during a Grand Tour.
Divided into ten “Chapters,” the film follows the race in stage order and the opening of Stage 1 to a large extent sets up what we will see in the next 55 minutes. There is the briefing in the team bus (with Tim Declerq carefully cutting out his race number every time!), the views from inside the two team cars with Tom Steels the DS in overall command, the view from inside the team bus as the support staff watch the unfolding of the stage on television, and the final roll-in at the end. We have no sense of the overall race but only the immediate activity of DQT. There is no reference to the crazy conditions on Stage 1 where riders crashed all over, nor do we see much in the way of scenery for most of the time.
The central figures of the film are Alaphillipe and DQT’s newly-acquired sprinter, Irishman Sam Bennett. In the first stage Bennett comes fourth in the final sprint, which does nothing to build up his confidence. Sprinters are known to be emotional types and Bennett, a 30 year old who turned pro in 2011, expresses his nervousness about the big race numerous times. In fact, he is singularly diffident and seems astonished at times to actually be in the Tour.
Stage 2 see the beginning of Alaphillipe’s time in yellow as he seizes the race and talks about how, as a French rider, he is thrilled to wear the Yellow Jersey. He says that the Tour is like a big machine, where, for three weeks, you function in a set pattern—eat, race, massage, sleep—that is repeated daily. He will continue to hold the jersey until Stage 5, when a late feed meant a 20 second penalty, handing the jersey to a surprised Adam Yates. Although the penalty was a black mark against a superbly organized pro team, nobody in the film seems particularly distraught about this, perhaps because with the big climbs ahead it would have been very difficult for Alaphillipe to keep the jersey anyway and exhausting for the team to defend it. Because at this point the second arrow in the quiver, Sam Bennett, was wearing the green jersey, the team’s focus now shifted to him.
There are short vignettes of DQT riders besides the principal protagonists. Bob Jungels speaks of the teamwork of the group and how much he has enjoyed working with everyone. This was his last Grand Tour with the team as he would be elsewhere in 2021 but he felt that the relationships he had made were for life. We see the powerful domestiques—Declerq, Devenyns, Morkov, Asgreen—who provide the support that a big sprinter like Bennett must have in order to get over the high mountains and survive to defend the Green Jersey into Paris. It is indicative of the team feeling that Sam Bennett, who took the jersey on Stage 5, the same one in which Alaphillipe lost his, was disappointed as he was hoping to get a picture of the two of them together in their iconic jerseys. Tom Steels started the day with a birthday celebration but it was clearly a day of mixed fortunes for the team.
After being pipped on Stage 3 by Caleb Ewan’s astonishing thread-the-needle sprint. Sam Bennett’s moment of glory came on Stage 10 when, with Tom Steels telling him on the radio to “load his legs with dynamite,” he crossed the line in a photo finish to win. He had doubts about the win but was overcome with tears of joy when his victory was confirmed, Phoning home that evening, he was still in shock, saying that team believed in him more than he did himself and that after so many years he was so thankful for the opportunity he now received.
The next day Ewan pipped him again in the sprint but with the relegation of Peter Sagan after the stage Sam Bennett was now in command of the Green Jersey. But Bennett wanted to win the jersey on his own terms, even if getting over the mountains was not going to be easy for him.
We see Rémi Cavagna, French national time trial champion, who has been with the team since 2017, and who is clearly delighted to be in the Tour. Tim Declerq talks about his motivation being in the helping of others to win. Kasper Asgreen, proud to wear his national champion’s jersey to the Tour, thinks the race is a lot of fun. And in Chapter 5, covering Stages 13 and 14, we finally see some scenery, visions of La France profonde, including, happily, a man in an ancient Bic team jersey playing the accordion.
The grand climax is, of course, the circuit of the Champs Elysee on the final stage. Before the start, Sam Bennett is given a green bicycle and it is a lovely moment captured in the film as not only is Bennett thrilled but the mechanic is beaming with pride as well.
Do not watch “The Wolfpack Insider: Tour de France” in the expectation that you will be watching the Tour de France but rather it is all about the Wolfpack, nicely filmed and with some highly personal and beautiful moments. The team functions superbly (not surprising given its record over the last decade) but viewers will be impressed by the singular sense of purpose at DQT, the lack of ego, and the pleasure that all the members of the team (riders and staff, stars and domestiques) share in each other’s company. The voiceover at the end says: “We just love cycling and do our best.” You can’t ask for more than that.
The Wolfpack Insider – Tour de France 2020 – documentary launched on the 8th December and will be exclusively available on endurance sports TV for the remainder of 2020. To watch this and over 400 hours of racing, documentaries, and interviews, visit www.endurancesports.tv