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2021 Team Preview: Deceuninck-QuickStep

Deceuninck-QuickStep
(Image credit: Wout Beel)

Deceuninck-QuickStep’s calling card has long been their sheer volume of victories and the trend continued in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when they were the WorldTour’s most prolific winners for the eighth year in succession. The team have lost big names over the years, but someone always seem to step up to the plate and the juggernaut rolls on regardless.

The cobbled Classics have traditionally been Patrick Lefevere’s squad’s core business, but they have diversified into just about every terrain over the years. In 2020, Sam Bennett maintained their redoubtable reputation as a sprint unit, Julian Alaphilippe became the team’s fourth road world champion (after Tom Boonen, double winner Paolo Bettini and Michal Kwiatkowski), while the rapid progress of youngsters João Almeida and Remco Evenepoel might see an increased emphasis on GC.

Manager: Patrick Lefevere

Squad size: 30

Average age: 28.2

How did they fare in 2020?

Wins: 39

WorldTour ranking: 2nd

In a most unusual year – within cycling and without – Deceuninck-QuickStep offered a rare note of familiarity. The restricted diet of racing ensured their total number of victories was down from the 68 they clocked up in 2020, but it was telling that they had a markedly similar spread of winners; some 15 different Deceuninck-QuickStep riders notched up at least one win in 2020, just one down on last year.

The headline act, of course, was Evenepoel, who won every stage race he rode in 2020: the Vuelta a San Juan, Volta ao Algarve, Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de Pologne. His heavy crash at Il Lombardia ended his season prematurely and ruled him out of an eagerly anticipated Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia. Already back in full training in Calpe, the 20-year-old has sounded a series of optimistic notes about his prospects in 2021.

Bennett was Lefevere’s marquee signing during the off-season, replacing Elia Viviani as the squad’s lead sprinter, and he lived up to his billing with a sparkling debut year, capped by two stage wins and the green jersey at the Tour, where Alaphilippe also won a stage and held yellow in the opening week. The Frenchman also won the world title, placed second at Milan-San Remo, squandered a chance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and crashed out of the winning move at the Tour of Flanders.

For the first time since 2016, the team failed to win a Monument but in a truncated campaign, they still annexed Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (Kasper Asgreen) and the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne (Yves Lampaert). Elsewhere, the neo-professional Almeida married assurance to defiance to place 4th at the Giro after wearing the maglia rosa for two weeks.

Julian Alaphilippe wins 2020 UCI Road World Championship

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Key riders:

Julian Alaphilippe: If his all-action October was any guide, Alaphilippe can be expected to put on a show in the rainbow bands of world champion. The Frenchman competes with Wout van Aert for the honorific of most versatile rider in the peloton. He was in the winning move at three of last season’s Monuments – Milan-San Remo, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Flanders – and he placed 5th overall at the 2019 Tour. The Classics – including a return to the Ronde – are in his sights early in 2021.

Sam Bennett: The Irishman made a seamless transition to life at Deceuninck-QuickStep, handling the pressure that comes with delivering victories for the smartest lead-out train in the sport. He matched his speed with resilience to deny Peter Sagan the green jersey. At 30 years of age, he is only hitting his stride.

Remco Evenepoel: The Belgian had already exhausted all superlatives by jumping directly from the junior ranks to the WorldTour, but his sophomore year was even more impressive. His Grand Tour debut will be one of the events of 2021.

João Almeida: A most useful foil for Evenepoel in the Algarve and Burgos, Almeida came into his own on Italian roads, where he demonstrated that he has the potential to win a Grand Tour. As well as his ability against the watch and on the climbs, the Portuguese rider seems blessed with the level-headedness necessary to thrive over three weeks.

Team Deceuninck QuickStep rider Portugals Joao Almeida C wearing the overall leaders pink jersey rides during the 9th stage of the Giro dItalia 2020 cycling race a 207kilometer route between San Salvo and Roccaraso on October 11 2020 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Strengths

As ever, for all the gifts of the star names, Deceuninck-QuickStep’s greatest strength lies in its collective. No matter the circumstances, someone always seems to step up to the plate. The 2020 Giro was a case in point, with the absence of Evenepoel offset by Almeida’s breakout display.

In the cobbled Classics, the depth of the team’s experience – allied to its quality – means that it has long been the point of reference in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. They may not always win, but the road to victory usually runs through them. That said, the emergence of two outstanding individuals in Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel poses a threat to their hegemony last seen when Fabian Cancellara was in his prime.

Alaphilippe will doubtless continue to excite across all terrains, while in the bunch sprints, Deceuninck-QuickStep have the peloton’s outstanding fast man in Sam Bennett, who meshed well with his new lead-out in his first season and should benefit from the continuity of the squad’s relative lack of transfer activity in 2021.

The emergence of Evenepoel and Almeida, meanwhile, has opened a new dimension for a team that has never won a Grand Tour. Evenepoel’s collection of week-long stage race wins will surely grow in 2021, and anything is possible in his three-week debut.

Weaknesses

Not many. The cobbled Classics unit has lost Niki Terpstra, Philippe Gilbert and Bob Jungels in successive seasons, and just as Van Aert and Van der Poel have emerged to offer a new kind of challenge. That said, on the evidence of his crash-interrupted Ronde debut, Alaphilippe could offset those losses, while the versatile Asgreen is likely to improve still further in 2021.

Deceuninck-QuickStep have potential Grand Tour winners in Evenepoel and Almeida, not to mention Alaphilippe, but beyond James Knox and Fausto Masnada, there is a shortage of riders to help them in the high mountains.

The effects of the pandemic on the transfer market meant that Lefevere preferred to retain his roster rather than consolidate it, with only Mark Cavendish and Josef Cerny joining during the off-season. Cavendish’s every move will generate headlines, of course, and the signing was risk-free for Lefevere, who got a late addition to his budget to hire the Manxman.

Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Remco Evenepoel steps onto the podium to be crowned the overall winner of the 2020 Volta ao Algarve

Evenepoel steps onto the podium to be crowned the overall winner of the 2020 Volta ao Algarve (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Verdict

It will be a surprise if Deceuninck-QuickStep don’t continue their sequence of winning more than the rest for a ninth successive year, while their emerging Grand Tour talent gives them more than a fighting chance of wresting the top of the WorldTour standings back from Jumbo-Visma.

Alaphilippe will hope to have endured the worst of the curse of the rainbow jersey during his travails at Liège and Flanders, Evenepoel will surely pick up where he left off in August, Bennett will keep winning, and Almeida’s development will be worth following very closely. Beyond the marquee names, meanwhile, strongmen like Asgreen, Zdenek Stybar and Remi Cavagna should chip in with wins, spirited support or both. In other words, same as it ever was.

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