Omega Pharma-QuickStep demonstrated its widening scope by winning the elite men’s team time trial at the world championships in Valkenburg on Sunday after a decade of being the most consistent collective force in the cobbled classics.
Established in 2001 as Domo and built around the classics aspirations of Johan Museeuw – who recently confessed to doping throughout his career – the Belgian squad’s seasons have traditionally centred on the first two Sundays in April. But while Tom Boonen again triumphed at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix this spring, the team’s campaign has been particularly notable for the startling run of success it has enjoyed on a number of new terrains.
Tony Martin was among Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s spate of new signings last winter as the team looked to broaden its horizons beyond the classics, and his teammates were quick to credit the world time trial champion’s influence on the squad’s three-second victory on Sunday. Described as a "machine" by Boonen in the post-race press conference, Martin looked to downplay his role and insisted that the team’s win was a collective effort.
"I think that on paper we had the strongest six riders but our job then was to come together as a team and find a good rhythm," Martin said. "The strongest always should think of the weakest and the weakest should think of the strongest. It’s not about showing you are the strongest or the best rider. At the end, we really made a good job and fought together as a team, which was the key to success today."
Remarkably, given the severity of the course and the positioning of the Cauberg just 1.5 kilometres from the finish, Omega Pharma-QuickStep succeeded in crossing the line with all six of their riders still together. By contrast, their dauphins BMC briefly struggled to ensure that they had the minimum four atop the Cauberg, which may well have tipped the balance in Omega Pharma’s favour.
"We just wanted to have the fourth rider with the best time," Niki Tersptra said. "We didn’t want to finish with six guys, but everybody had a good day and we made it to the finish." ("Yeah, we tried to drop him but we couldn’t," Boonen interjected.)
The rejuvenation of Omega Pharma-QuickStep has been one of the season’s most intriguing storylines, and their victory in the Worlds team time trial is perhaps the starkest example of their metamorphosis from the squad that could only clock up eight victories in the whole of 2011. The running total for 2012 currently stands at an enormous 47.
Boonen credited a change in bike supplier (from Eddy Merckx to Specialized) and "a change in mentality" for the strides his team had made against the watch in 2012, both as individuals and as a collective.
Team manager Wilfried Peeters, who rode for the team’s previous iterations as Museeuw’s closest domestique, said that the Worlds team time trial had been a special target, with directeur sportif Tom Steels paying particular attention to the marginal gains.
"Tom looked at the circuit three months ago and made some videos, and sent them to everybody, so everyone knew every corner very well," Peeters said. "I think Tom saw the time trial course 10 times. We came with the whole team after the Eneco Tour and we’ve also put in a lot of work in the last couple of days. Yesterday we did the first 20k very fast, checking every corner."