2014 Omega Pharma-QuickStep report card
WorldTour ranking: Fourth (up from seventh in 2013)
Win count: 63 (up from 56 in 2013)
Top riders: Michal Kwiatkowski (16th), Niki Terpstra (26th), Rigoberto Uran (30th) and Tony Martin (34th)
What can you say about a team with riders capable of opening and closing a 63-win season with World Championship victories except superb.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep had one of the most successful seasons with an abundance of unforgettable victories neatly wrapped in rainbow-jersey-winning performances by the Czech Republic’s Zdeněk Štybar in cyclo-cross and Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski on the road.
The team had their traditional mix of Spring Classics contenders, stage winners, sprinters and time triallists, who contributed to the team’s accomplishments. Nothing could be more indicative of the team’s investment in one-day specialists and shorter stage race riders this year than by capping off the season with rising talent Kwiatkowski winning the elite men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain - even if the victory came after a disappointing loss in the team time trial and the individual time trial earlier that week.
The Belgian WorldTour team picked up Kwiatkowski in 2012, and he has proven to be quite the catch during his three-year term, making strong improvements each season. The 24-year-old showed his versatility during his debut at the Tour de France in 2013, where he had several podium finishes and was a contender for the young rider’s jersey, making him a top rider to watch in both one-day and stage races heading into 2014.
His wins at Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, Volta ao Algarve and Strade Bianche, along with strong overall performances at Tirreno-Adriatico and Pais Vasco, set him up for a good ride through the Spring Classics where he placed third at Liége-Bastonge-Liége and La Flèche Wallonne, and fifth at Amstel Gold Race. He went into the Tour de France as a potential contender for the young rider competition and a dark horse for stage wins. He managed to pull off a podium, two top 10s, and spent a short stint in the white jersey. He came back near season’s end to score a stage win, the points jersey and second overall at the Tour of Britain, which put him near the top of the list of favourites for the road race at Worlds.
The team had a disappointing start to the week in Ponferrada with an unsuccessful bid to defend its title in the team time trial, soured even further when Bradley Wiggins ended Tony Martin’s winning streak in the individual time trial. Kwiatkowski turned the team’s fortune around during the elite men’s road race, where he showed his strength and tenacity among the select group that made it over the last climb. His timely and winning attack late in the race secured the rainbow jersey - a triumphant finale for both Poland and Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
It was a big win but the team had many big wins this year and among them was Štybar’s victory at the cyclo-cross World Championships in February. The Czech rider also won a stage at the Eneco Tour and led the race, however, he was forced to abandon after a heavy crash during stage 4. His teammate Guillaume van Keirsbulck went on to win the last stage. Štybar returned to the peloton in time to win Binche-Chimay-Binche in October.
The team had an outstanding performance at the Tour of Qatar with Niki Terpstra and Tom Boonen finishing first and second place in the overall. Terpstra went on to win Dwars door Vlaanderen, and although the win escaped him at E3 Harelbeke, he landed the biggest win of his career at Paris-Roubaix. Boonen won Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, had a series of top-10 finishes through the Spring Classics and won two stages at the Baloise Belgium Tour.
Gianni Meersman, also a one-day hunter, picked up wins during the season’s second half where he was on the podium in every stage at the Tour de Wallonie, and won the overall title and the points competition. He also won two stages at the Tour de l’Ain.
No one caused more excitement in the time trials than the team’s three-time world champion Tony Martin, who opened Tirreno-Adriatico with a win against the clock and took the first leader’s jersey. He went on to win time trials at Pais-Vasco, Baloise Belgium Tour and the Tour de Suisse. In Switzerland, he showed that he wasn’t just a time triallist after he survived the mountains and wore the leader’s jersey for a remarkable nine stages, until it was snatched off his back by Lampre-Merida’s Rui Costa on the final day.
As the saying goes, 'you can’t win them all,' and Omega Pharma-QuickStep had their share of losses too. The most devastating was Mark Cavendish’s crash during the opening stage of the Tour de France in Harrogate. The Manxman was in top form after multiple wins during the early season, all in preparation for the Tour’s start where he was a favourite to win the bunch sprint and take the event’s first yellow jersey. He was forced to abandon the race entirely.
In the face of adversity, the team showed their collective strength and motivation, and re-adjusted their Tour focus on Matteo Trentin, who won the stage 7 sprint, and Martin won stage 9 from a breakaway and the stage 20 time trial.
Cavendish suffered another crash at the opening stage of the Tour of Britain but his teammates pulled through once again with Mark Renshaw, Julien Vermote and Kwiatkowski each winning a stage. Cavendish salvaged the rest of his season with a win at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes, bringing in a total of 10 wins this season.
Martin continued his time trial domination at the Vuelta a España winning stage 10, and was a favourite to win a fourth consecutive world title in Ponferrada but had to settle second place.
The team hired Rigoberto Urán to fulfill their Grand Tour ambitions with some success. His efforts may appear to have been upstaged by the team’s winning sprinters and one-day opportunists but he did contribute with a solid second-place overall at the Giro d’Italia, where he won the stage 10 time trial, placed third in the stage 19 time trial, and helped the team to their second-place finish during the opening team time trial in Belfast. That performance helped him settle in as the third highest ranked rider on the team. Unfortunately, problems with asthma forced him to lose time in the overall classification at the Vuelta a España, and he pulled out of the race.
What to expect in 2015: With a new title sponsor, the team will be called Etixx-QuickStep in 2015. Management has reassured their riders with secured funding until 2017, which should allow them to focus their energy on continuing to win an abundance of races, much the same as they have during the previous seasons. Uran and Kwiatkowski will lead the team in the mountainous stage races, and Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish will remain as team leaders for shorter, flatter stage races and one-day events.
Best signing: David de La Cruz steps up to the WorldTour for the first time with Ettix-QuickStep after spending two season with the Pro Continental team Net-App Endura. He showed his climbing potential after placing second on stage 6 at the Tour of California and finished the American race in 10th place overall. He will be expected to help Urán and Kwiatkowski in stage races.
Biggest loss: The team said goodbye to a series of talents that include Serge Pauwels, Wout Poels, Alessandro Petacchi, Kevin De Weert, Andrew Fenn, Jan Bakelants and Thomas de Gendt. Pettachi, 40, is winding down a highly successful career as he heads to the Pro Continental team Neri-Sottoli next year. Bakelants may be the team’s biggest loss, however, because at 28 years old he is still coming into his top form. He won stages at the Tour de France last year and the Critérium du Dauphiné this year, and has a bright future ahead of him. He will ride for Ag2r-La Mondiale in 2015.
Man to watch: Watch out for Kwiatkowski as he continues to develop into a top stage race contender and a one-day winner. With the confidence of the rainbow jersey on his back, the sky is the limit for him in 2015.