Etixx-QuickStep: 2015 Report Card

The Belgian juggernaut keeps rolling

WorldTour Ranking: 4/17 (same  2014)
Win Count: 54 (Down from 62 in 2014)
Top Riders: Rigoberto Uran (13), Michal Kwiatkowski (25), Julian Alaphilippe (28), Zdenek Stybar (31), Niki Terpstra (37)

Etixx-QuickStep topped pro cycling's win list for the fourth-straight year, securing 54 victories over the 2015 season, compared to 44 for Team Sky and 40 apiece for Lotto-Soudal and Katusha. Movistar, which topped the 2015 WorldTour rankings had just 32 wins.

That accomplishment alone would make a good year for most teams that are built around one-day races and daily success in the Grand Tours, but the long list of previous glory for Patrick Lefevere's Belgian program sets a pretty high bar. Star rider Tom Boonen's Classics-ending crash at Paris-Nice was a huge blow for the team, which was hoping he would add at least one more monument to his already large collection. 2015 was more about quantity than quality.

Missing their top gun for major monuments like Flanders, Roubaix and Liege, the team had to be satisfied with Michal Kwiatkowski's win at Amstel Gold and victories at lesser Classics like Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Strade-Bianche, Handzame Classic and Ronde Van Zeeland Seaports.

The wins came early in 2015 for Etixx-QuickStep, thanks to Mark Cavendish at the Tour de San Luis and Gianni Meersman at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Australia. The January wins carried on into multiple stage wins for Cavendish at the Dubai Tour and for Niki Terpstra at the Tour of Qatar. Tony Martin added a time trial win at the Volta a Algarve, and the team looked as ready for the classics as they could be without Boonen. Cavendish struck first at Kuurne, Zdenek Stybar followed at Strade-Bianche, and Kwiatkowski cleaned up at Amstel.

Another bright spot, of course, was the arrival of Julian Alaphilippe and his run through the Ardennes Classics, where he finished second in both Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The 23-year-old Frenchman carried his good form to Tour de Romandie, where he landed on the podium twice, and then on to the Tour of California, where he won the Mt. Badly stage and was narrowly beaten for the overall by Peter Sagan on the final day. Alaphilippe was ill with a virus toward the end of the season, so it will be interesting to see how he rebounds next year.

Uran's 14th place at the Giro was less than what the team had hoped for, but they did collect a stage win from Iljo Kiesse. The team grabbed three stage wins at the Tour de France with Stybar, Cavendish and Martin, who wore yellow for two days and then had to abandon after crashing in the closing kilometre of stage 6. The Tour was a success but the team left Paris with the regret that a little luck could have made it even more successful. 

Boonen returned from injury to win stages at the Belgian and Eneco Tours, then helped the team finish second in the team time trial World Championships in Richmond. He won the Sparkassen Munsterland Giro in Germany and then went to the Abu Dhabi Tour, finishing second during the opening stage before disaster struck and he crashed hard, striking his head and fracturing his temporal bone, obviously not the ideal way for your star rider to end his season.

The good news for Etixx-QuickStep is that Boonen has been recovering ahead of schedule. He's keen to add a record-fifth Paris-Roubaix win to his palmares as he contemplates retirement in 2016. That could be a good recipe for cooking up some monumental results next spring.

What to expect in 2016:

Patrick Lefevere's Belgian program has been steaming along at the top of the sport for decades, and there's nothing to indicate that trend will stop anytime soon.

Biggest loss going into 2016:

Although Uran and Kwiatkowski were the team's top riders in the UCI rankings, Etixx-QuickStep will likely feel the loss of Mark Cavendish most in 2016. Cavendish could be counted on for at least a dozen wins every year; he hit his five-year average of 14 this season. Cavendish could also be counted in brining along with him a ton of fan and media interest, along with a provocative statement or two. The Manxman, now 30-years-old, will take his act to Team Dimension Data next year, and it will be up to newcomers Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria to fill in the big hole he leaves behind.

Biggest signing for 2016:

Dan Martin looks like a perfect fit for Etixx-QuickStep’s hilly Classics ambitions, but Marcel Kittel's surprise exit from Giant-Alpecin and subsequent signing was an even more important move for the team. As Etixx director Brian Holm said earlier this year, the big German has an extra gear that others lack if he can regain the form he had in 2014. With neo-pro sprinter Fernando Gaviria still unproven over a long WorldTour season, the team will be looking for Kittel to bring in the big wins.

One to watch in 2016:

It will be interesting to see if Alaphilippe can build on his early season results this year, but Colombian sprinting prodigy Gaviria will be the team's rider to watch next season. The 21-year-old speedster comes from a track background and has piled up some impressive and promising road palmares in a short time.

Gaviria came onto the radar in January when he twice beat Cavendish in head-up sprints at the Tour de San Luis. Etixx-QuickStep took notice and signed Gaviria through the 2017 season, and he joined the team in August as a trainee. Gaviria didn't waste time justifying the team's decision, winning a bunch sprint at the Czech Tour and finishing things off with a stage win at the Tour of Britain.

The young rider has a promising trajectory and could help fill the void left in the Manxman's wake, characterising Etixx-Quickstep's evolution for 2016.  

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