Patrick Lefevere sat down with the media on Friday afternoon in Kortrijk to discuss his team’s chances ahead of the 111th edition of Paris-Roubaix.
The flamboyant Belgian manager of Omega Pharma-Quickstep also looked back to Scheldeprijs, where it became obvious Mark Cavendish’s sprint train was choking.
In Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs Cavendish lacked support in the final kilometres and after missing out on that much-wanted win the Manxman was a hugely disappointed man. It resulted in a reprimand from Lefevere after the race in the team bus. Lefevere told his riders that if they were afraid or worried that it was all about Cavendish they could join the Accent Jobs-Wanty team.
“I’m not taking any words back although the interpretation from my side could have been explained better. It could’ve been Landbouwkrediet as well. If you want to be a team leader, then go there.”
“Those teams ride without a leader. If you’re good, you’re protected by the team and that’s it. It wasn’t meant in a negative way,” Lefevere said.
The arrival of Cavendish means that the team will need more riders to lead out their sprinter. Lefevere is aware that some riders who’re at the end of their contract fear for their spot but he’s convinced that his current riders are capable of leading out Cavendish too, even without his longtime sprint lieutenant Bernard Eisel.
“I invested in Cavendish. It was a late signing and I couldn’t react on the transfer market while Eisel did not want to come along. I still think that we’ve got the boys in the team who can do it,” Lefevere said.
The fact that the team was nowhere to be seen in the final kilometres worried the team manager. “It was by far the easiest race of the season. The weather was reasonable, the wind was not decisive. But they should not be euphoric and try to control the race with the whole team when there’s 40km to go, before eventually not showing up when it was needed. Especially because Blanco and Argos wanted to ride too,” Lefevere said.
“The casting needs to improve. And if the team’s overdoing it then somebody needs to tell them to stop. Mark never had to do that – and that’s no criticism but an ascertainment – as Eisel usually did that. We don’t have that type of rider who’s managing the train. He never did that, there was always someone he did it for him. Tom Boonen is somebody who commands as well. Other can’t or don’t dare to do that. It’s always good to have someone who leads the way,” Lefevere said.
After Scheldeprijs it was Cavendish himself who pledged for Boonen to be in the Tour de France. “Mark and Tom get along well. Mark looks up to Tom. Tom is a powerful sprinter and of course Mark knows that Tom would be the ideal man to launch his sprint,” Lefevere said. It was Boonen started that rumour himself at the team presentation in January.
“He surprised everybody, including us, by saying he might do the Tour. It’s still far away. First Tom needs to recover, take a bit of holiday. Then he has to check out whether the world championships are something for him. He’ll check it out with the Belgian team in May. The first day they’ll scout the big loop, the next day the local lap,” Lefevere said.
For now Gert Steegmans is dedicated as the last man in the train. Lefevere knows what the Belgian rider was capable of. “You can’t expect from Gert Steegmans that he leads the team. He can be the lead-out man. You can’t judge on him now. He’s been injured and the Spring hasn’t been normal,” Lefevere said.
Lefevere has a great record in the Hell Classic, even racking up several 1-2-3’s back in the heydays of the Mapei team. This year the odds are different as his pavé specialist Tom Boonen is injured and the classics team is lacking confidence. In contrast to the series of spring classics wins last year the team failed to repeat any of those this time around.
“I don’t want to be whining all the time but it’s clear that Tom Boonen is making the difference for us. That’s also why he’s Tom Boonen, there aren’t five other riders like him. That’s also why I told all the boys who’re supposedly held back under the yoke of Boonen: the road is free. They’re all capable of riding over the cobbles and riding the finale. Winning the race is something different though. They’re not all as fast as Tom Boonen,” Lefevere said.
When discussing tactics for Paris-Roubaix the manager pointed out he was curious to see how former cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar would fare, adding all riders were fit for the job.
“I’m confident we have the riders who can anticipate and get in a breakaway which hopefully gets underestimated, like when Vansummeren won and nobody wanted to ride with Cancellara. Late in the race much depends on who’s in the breakaway. Stijn Vandenbergh rode with Luca Paolini in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. You know you’re beaten against him but you’re certain of the podium. Sunday will not be any different to that. With some riders you’ll go on and with others you’ll wait for the rest to come back. There’s not a lot of riders who win a race. Then again, we’re already up to 18 wins if I’m not mistaken and we’re topping the team rankings. Maybe our wins are not the biggest ones out there but who’s taking those, not a lot of riders,” Lefevere asked.
“Look at the podiums in Flanders and Roubaix of the last ten years and it gets somewhat boring. It’s always Boonen-Cancellara. There’s not a lot of riders who can win a big classic. Many riders would sacrifice their life to get that victory. Look at Vansummeren. With all respect for Johan but how many races did he win? If you win Paris-Roubaix your career has succeeded,” Lefevere said before going deeper into possible tactics.
“It’s up to the team directors to judge on tactics but a breakaway often gets far in this race. Obviously they should not jump along with a group of five but sneaking along in a group of twenty riders would be good. You have to be strong to survive of course. Last year Guillaume Van Keirsbulck was in there until a crash took him out. If that would not have happened the breakaway would have gotten really far. When Tom Steels was Belgian champion everybody said he had to ride the Tour of Flanders but I told him that he would get dropped and would not be recovered in time for Gent-Wevelgem and Roubaix. He finished third in Roubaix after surviving the early breakaway,” Lefevere said.
“Team Sky could be some sort of companion for us in the race. They have a strong team without having someone who takes the wins. They can make the race. It’s like the French say, compagnons de route. We share the same interests,” Lefevere said.
Later that day Servais Knaven played down high expectations. “A coalition with Quickstep? Certainly not before the race,” Knaven said.