All through the cobbled Classics, as Etixx-QuickStep’s failure to land a big win generated column inches in Flanders, manager Patrick Lefevere insisted that the final balance sheet could only be tallied after Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Etixx-QuickStep went into the race with two contenders for victory, Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe, who had showcased their form by finishing on the podium at Flèche Wallonne in midweek, behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
The expectation was the Etixx-QuickStep duo would again challenge Valverde, but low temperatures, sleet and snow saw this Liège-Bastogne-Liège take on a different guise. Wout Poels (Sky) won out, while Alaphilippe placed 23rd, 12 seconds down, and Martin came home almost two minutes back.
“The weather conditioned the race, and when it’s like that, it’s it very difficult to judge the true value of the riders,” Lefevere said in Ans on Sunday evening. “Dan Martin couldn’t react on the Saint-Nicolas, and Alaphilippe’s attack was more of a swansong. The riders are very thin, and the conditions wore down their resistance.”
Liège-Bastogne-Liège brings the curtain down on a – relatively – disappointing spring for Etixx-QuickStep, who always line out with such ambition in the Classics. Marcel Kittel’s win at Scheldeprijs hardly compensated for results elsewhere, particularly when Tom Boonen was surprisingly edged out in the sprint on the velodrome in Paris-Roubaix four days later.
It then fell upon the Ardennes Classics unit to put a different sheen on Etixx-QuickStep’s spring, but Lefevere had no reproach for his riders afterwards, preferring instead to emphasise the youthfulness of his line-up. As in 2010 and 2013, QuickStep ends the spring without a Monument victory.
“We’re in the process of building a team for the immediate future,” Lefevere told Sudpresse. “Julian Alaphilippe is 23 years old, Laurens De Plus is 20 years old, and Petr Vakoc is 23 years old… It’s promising.
“We do every race looking to win, and with 22 victories now at the end of April, we’re following a good tempo. In the finale of every race, we’ve shown real collective strength.”
The atmosphere around the team this Spring could have been rather different, of course, had Fernando Gaviria not crashed just ahead of the sprint on Via Roma at the end of Milan-San Remo. “I’m convinced that with that stupid crash in the finale, [Fernando] Gaviria would have won Milan-San Remo in March,” Lefevere said.
The end of the Classics campaign usually accelerates activity on the transfer market, and the Belgian press has repeatedly linked Etixx-QuickStep with an approach for Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in recent weeks. Van Avermaet made light of the stories when he appeared with Boonen on a Sporza chat show last week, joking that the veteran – also out of contract – might come and ride with him at BMC instead.