The Quick Step riders have been taking advantage of bright sun and 20°C temperatures in Calpe, Spain, to log some quality training rides at its second pre-season camp.
The team was in Calpe in December for a week and this second camp will last a total of 10 days. The team will hold its official presentation at the Velofollies bike show in Kortrijk, Belgium on January 21.
While northern Europe suffered in the cold and rain, the spring-like conditions in Calpe meant the Quick Step riders have been able to train wearing just arm warmers and leg warmers. One layer of lycra was enough to keep warm in the sun.
The Quick Step team slipped to 18th in the UCI ranking based on the rider roster for 2011, but team manager Patrick Lefevere has dismissed the ranking, insisting that his team will be far stronger out on the road than it looks on paper.
Tom Boonen seems to be back to his best after his knee injury and will surely be a major contender in the classics. Stijn Devolder has moved to Vacansoleil but the arrival of Gert Steegmans, Francesco Chicchi and Gerald Ciolek means that Quick Step will be a big threat in every sprint finish.
Sylvain Chavanel and Jérôme Pineau will again form a French double-act for the Tour de France, while Niki Terpstra and Marc De Maar will bolster the all-round strength of the team.
A name to remember is that of Guillaume Van Keirsbulck. He will be just 20 on February 14, and is the youngest rider professional in Belgium and the youngest rider in a ProTeam squad. He won the Junior Paris-Roubaix in 2009 and is being touted as the next Tom Boonen.
Eighteen riders were out for the ride on Friday, creating a long double line on the road. The only riders not in Calpe were track rider Iljo Keisse and those in Australia who will ride the Tour Down Under. These include new sprinters Francesco Chicchi and Gerald Ciolek, who will take on Cavendish, Greipel and McEwen from Sunday.
The riders had completed a three-day block of training on Thursday and so Friday was a relaxed recovery ride that included a short climb but a long coffee stop overlooking the Mediterranean. On Wednesday they did a test on the Col de Rat with coach Tom Steels and sprint intervals, while Thursday was an endurance ride of five and half hours.
Without doubt Tom Boonen is the natural and charismatic leader of the team. For his ability on the bike and his friendly nature. The rider was due to roll out at 11 o'clock but he was delayed as the mechanic fitted the bar tape to Boonen's new handlebars an so everybody waited for him. He is clearly a perfectionist when it comes to his bike and even talked to the mechanic about the direction of the cables under his bottom bracket.
Boonen lost most of the 2010 season because of a knee problem. But he is convinced he is back at his best.
"My knee is fine, it's not a problem anymore," he assured Cyclingnews. "I think I'm even feeling a little better than I did last year when I started training.
"I've trained a lot in the gym in the last few months to get my strength back in my leg. I've also done a lot of motor pacing and so I don’t think my speed will be a problem.
"The atmosphere is really good in the team and the changes have brought a wind of change. We all get on. It's a young team but I think we've got one of the best three lead-out trains in the peloton."
While most of the big-name sprinters are in Australia for the clash first of the season, Boonen is happy to wait until the Tour of Qatar to make his season debut.
"I was thinking about doing the Tour Down Under but I decided to wait until Qatar, to do some extra quality training and to spend some time with my new teammates," he told Cyclingnews.
"I'm ready to race but I'm happy to start in Qatar. It's always worked for me and I know I've got to be at my peak in April, not in February."