What's Cool In Road Cycling

INEOS Vs Quick-Step: The Good and the Bad Spring Classics

Ed’s Rant: The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team have had a less than perfect spring Classics campaign, while on the other hand, INEOS Grenadiers have surpassed themselves in the one-day races. Ed Hood has been scratching his head over the ‘turned tables’ of the 2022 spring.

Napoleon
Napoleon: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”

One of Napoleon’s generals came to him, canvassing the Emperor to promote a young officer to a higher rank; “he’s brave, smart and his men love him” said the General. “Yes, yes, but is he lucky?” replied the great man.

Ooft!

As I watched Quick-Step’s chances of a consolation podium behind a ‘special’ Dylan Van Baarle disappear as an over-enthusiastic spectator was responsible for Yves Lampaert coming down hard in the closing kilometres of Paris-Roubaix, it occurred to me that even ‘Lady Luck’ has deserted the flooring boys. Van Baarle had his share of bad luck with a puncture – but it was early and the team car wasn’t far away whilst Lampaert had to make do with a Shimano service bike.

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Early puncture no problem for Van Baarle

Early season illness hit Quick-Step hard and the team which were the Kasseien Kings – Jakobsen’s fine Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne win apart – their northern classics campaign has been a bleak failure. This is the same team which in 2018 won: Le Samyn, Dwars door West Vlaanderen, Nokere Koerse, Handzame, De Panne, the GP E3, Dwars door Vlaanderen, de Ronde and the Scheldeprijs. They also went on to win the Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which on paper is still possible?

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Can the World champ save the Quick-Step bacon?

Meanwhile, INEOS – which in a previous incarnation as SKY enjoyed a dreadful early 2018 – have been the dominant team in recent weeks with straight wins in the Amstel, Brabantse Pijl and Paris-Roubaix. Lady Luck’s exit as a flooring contractor apart, why this huge reversal of fortune in the races which really matter to the rabid Belgian media and the fanatical race watching public – let’s not forget that Lefevere’s men have still won 18 races and are ranked number three in the world.

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And what about Remco in the Ardennes?

Father Time doesn’t mess; Manchester United couldn’t remain the best soccer team in Europe forever, Tiger Woods won’t win another Major and even Eddy Merckx started the dreaded one season too many. Things change.

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Maybe Merckx should have stopped after Fiat

But there are other factors at play.
The other day I was driving back from Stirling and passed through the INEOS petro-chemicals refinery at Grangemouth; it’s enormous, 1,700 acres and employing 650 people. And when I look out of my living room window across the River Forth, many of the oil and gas tankers moored out there have ‘INEOS Grenadier’ emblazoned in huge letters on their flanks. The financial resources behind the team are immense, meanwhile Patrick Lefevere has to count every penny to balance the books. But if INEOS didn’t win another race all year, ‘the man in the street’ in the UK would be little the wiser with the meagre media coverage cycling receives in the UK. As someone once said; “The Olympics, the two weeks every four years when the British public pretend they’re interested in cycling.”

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INEOS and the Forth rail bridge

Not so in Belgium, Quick-Step is a national institution and Patrick Lefevere as well known to the public as Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson was at the height of his team’s successes. The team’s wins in Spain, the Algarve, Oman and Italy mean little to the Belgian Media or public, they want results on the bergs and kasseien – the pressure is intense. And even Sir Alex knew when it was time to go.

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The ‘one and only’ Patrick Lefevere

Is it time for a change of management?
Patrick Lefevere may say what many people are thinking but in this ‘woke’‘PC’‘inclusive’ era, holding your tongue is often the best policy. His loss of window giants Deceuninck as a sponsor was in no small measure due to his outspoken comments regarding ladies’ cycling.

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Is ‘Tommeke’ the Quick-Step heir in waiting?

In Belgium, Tom Boonen is being mooted as a possible successor to the man who has been behind the team since its inception. But as we noted earlier, Father Time is a formidable opponent. The pressure on the team to perform and get column inches has seen the once masters of race craft engage in some dubious tactics – like burning up virtually the whole team way too early and to no gain in de Ronde.

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Burning up the whole team way too early in de Ronde

Meanwhile INEOS get it right and right again, due to a number of factors – perhaps not least the influence of ex-pro Roger Hammond in the team car. Hammond spent many seasons with low budget Belgian teams, finishing top 10 in Gent Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. He knows the roads, he knows the tactics, he knows what it takes to win on the bergs and kasseien.

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Roger Hammond – Came up through the Belgian ranks

Then there was Egan Bernal’s horror TT bike training crash meaning winning the Tour is not now an option; Carapaz can win a Giro or Vuelta but not le Tour. The team has had to re-focus, setting their sights on the spring – and have done so remarkably well.

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INEOS change of plan – No Tour for Bernal

INEOS have also invested in youth, which has paid off for them in spades with the successes of Tullett, Hayter, Sheffield and the remarkable Ben Turner – and that’s before we mention Tom Pidcock.

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Young Magnus Sheffield – Brabantse Pijl and a stage in Andalucia

Whilst Quick-Step have found a gem with 21 years-old Brit. Ethan Vernon they haven’t made the same investment for the future that INEOS have. ‘Young Wonder,’ Remco Evenepoel at 22 years-of-age is beginning to understand what being the centre of attention is all about with his programme and every performance analysed then better analysed. Whilst Remco and Quick-Step seemed a marriage made in heaven one wonders if he wouldn’t have been better, ‘doing a Phil Gil’ and signing for a French team to begin his career out of the intense spotlight of the Belgian Media?

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Sir David is a happy man

Then there’s preparation, it’s now a far more scientific process than, ‘getting the hours in.’ UAE, Jumbo and INEOS have all had a long hard think over the winter about their preparation with altitude camps and weeks spent in ‘hypoxic’ rooms in establishments like ex-pro Alexandr Kolobnev’s, Syncrosfera Sport and Wellness Hotel in Denia, Spain. The atmosphere in the plush rooms can be taken from sea level to high altitude with the use of a remote control.

Syncrosfera Sport and Wellness Hotel

‘Long hours,’ on their own are no longer enough and the focus now is on watts, watts and more watts. An intangible but very important component of any successful team is motivation, which seems to be lacking from the team which used to make winning look easy – and fun. Their main classics big hitter, the Dane, Kasper Asgreen looks tired, not the man he was 12 months ago. If I was his agent I would be suggesting a change of team. But perhaps Ala will win the Flèche and at Liège and the cobbled failures will be forgotten and forgiven? However, I can’t help but think that the Ardennes are going to be another episode of the, Slovenia Story. . .

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Mohorič or Pogačar in Ardennes – No Roglič

# Stay PEZ for the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview and Flèche Wallonne race report on Wednesday and all the news in EUROTRASH on Thursday. #

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