The Etixx-QuickStep team again topped the table as the most successful in 2015, winning 54 races during the season, yet despite the Belgian team's success, Patrick Lefevere has shaken up the team for 2016 in the hope of laying down the foundations for an even more successful long-term future.
"I think it was another great year for us. We won 54 races. I think we won at least 10 races more than the second team," Lefevere told Cyclingnews with pride as he discussed the 2015 season and looked to 2016.
According to the Procyclingstats website, Team Sky was a distant second best with 45 victories, while the likes of Lotto Soudal and Katusha won 40 races. Lefevere is aware that Etixx-Quickstep was only fourth in the WorldTour team rankings but claims that his riders won quality races as well in quantity.
"Amongst all our wins there are two Classics – Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Tours, plus second in Paris-Roubaix, second at the Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallonne. We also won three stages at the Tour de France, had a spell in the yellow jersey and won other stages in the Giro, California, San Luis, the Tour of Britain and lots of races in between. I don't think I can complain," he said.
Of course, the 60-year-old team manager has some regrets, knowing that without some crashes, injuries and misfortune, the team's haul for 2015 could have been even better.
"Nothing is easy in life but if you think we lost Tom (Boonen) in such an important moment of the season and then Tony Martin crashed out of the Tour de France while in the yellow jersey, that's further testament to the success of our season. That's why I'm happy," he said.
"With the motivation he had and his engine we could have won the team time trial at the Tour, too. People think Mark Cavendish had a quiet season but they forget he had 14 wins. They were not all big wins, but a win is a win, especially in modern cycling, where nothing is easy. The best food for a sprinter is winning."
Lefevere has managed some of the biggest teams and most difficult riders in the peloton during the past 20 years, creating a Belgian dynasty that has dominated the Classics and won races around the globe. He is an astute player of the transfer market whenever he makes any major changes in his team roster. He carefully invests in young talent when he sees real potential but is not afraid to negotiate hard when his team leaders push for new, more lucrative contracts.
For 2016 he has made several key changes at Etixx-QuickStep: Mark Cavendish has been replaced by Marcel Kittel; Dan Martin has been signed to target the Ardennes Classics and mentor Julian Alaphilippe; Tom Boonen has extended for at least another season; and Bob Jungels has been signed as a possible heir to Boonen’s Classics crown.
Fernando Gaviria could develop into a sprinting sensation, while Davide Martinelli is one of he best young Italian riders of his generation despite Team Sky deciding not to sign him. Lefevere has also brought on board supermarket chain Lidl as a sponsor, replacing Renson on the rear of the shorts.
Lefevere revealed that Mark Cavendish broke down in tears when they met at the recent Abu Dhabi Tour following the announcement that the Manxman will ride for Dimension Data in 2016. Both parties perhaps wanted to continue to work together but it was impossible to reach a deal that satisfied everyone.
"I'm sad to lose Mark but we're in a business," Lefevere explained. "It's about sport business, about budgets for one or another reason. It was very difficult to keep him in the team."
Lefevere is hoping that Kittel can fill Cavendish's shoes and that Etixx-Quickstep can give the German the lead-out he needs thanks to the arrival of Ariel Richeze from Lampre-Merida and thanks to the ability of Tony Martin, Matteo Trentin and Iljo Keisse.
"Trentin is maybe too good to be a lead-out man, but he, like others, can do it in some races," Lefevere suggested. "It's about automatics. In December and January we can train for it."
More than one particular signing or star rider, Lefevere is most proud of the work he has done to secure Etixx-QuickStep's future in the medium-term. While other teams are struggling to find sponsors, he is laying the foundations for new cycle, into 2017 and beyond.
"I'm very proud to have brought Lidl on board as a sponsor of our team," he said.
"It's a big brand and I'm thinking long-term. We're okay for our budget for the next two years, but it'll be great if Lidl stepped up after that. We can only hope that we do well and that we can convince Lidl to become a main sponsor. That's how I'd judge a really successful season."