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Analysing Deceuninck-QuickStep's 2021 Tour de France squad

PFAFFNAU, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 08: Julian Alaphilippe of France and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step attacks during the 84th Tour de Suisse 2021, Stage 3 a 185km stage from Lachen to Pfaffnau 509m / #UCIworldtour / @tds / #tourdesuisse / on June 08, 2021 in Pfaffnau, Switzerland. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
World champion Julian Alaphilippe leads Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The 2021 Tour de France starts today and it's nearly time to find out how accurate the pre-race predictions and analysis have been. First, though, there's time for one final chance to scrutinise one of the top teams taking to the roads of Brittany this weekend.

We've analysed the big three GC teams of Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma, and UAE Team Emirates, and now it's the turn of that other famed powerhouse, Deceuninck-QuickStep, a constant at the top of season-ending win rankings.

Whether the Belgian squad and their leader Julian Alaphilippe will be among those fighting for the general classification remains to be seen.

However, he and his team – which this year includes 30-time stage winner Mark Cavendish, Flanders champion Kasper Asgreen, the world's top domestique Tim Declercq and lead-out man extraordinaire Michael Mørkøv – are impossible to ignore. 

So without further ado, here's our analysis of Deceuninck-QuickStep's 2021 Tour de France squad.

Julian Alaphilippe

  • Age: 29
  • Tours raced: Four
  • Best result: Fifth in 2019, five stage wins and the combativity award

Beyond the first weekend, which features two uphill finishes in Brittany well suited to Alaphilippe's abilities, it's hard to predict what the world champion will be taking aim at over the next three weeks.

He himself has said he'll take it day by day, but will his race be more like 2019 or 2020?

Two years ago, two weeks in yellow saw him battle for the GC on to Paris, taking fifth overall in addition to two stage wins along the way. Last year, the Worlds in Imola was his main aim as he took a stage win en route to finishing 36th.

This year, he has certainly looked capable of reaching his 2019 level. At the recent Tour de Suisse he was climbing like a GC contender again, lying third overall before withdrawing to attend the birth of his child before the final stage.

The Tour route this year suits him too, with just three summit finishes on the menu alongside 58 kilometres of time trialling. Winning the Tour is out of the question, and even making the podium in Paris still looks a big ask, but with no Olympic considerations to think about a week later, why not go for broke?

Mark Cavendish

Scheldeprijs 2021 109th Edition Terneuzen Schoten 1938 km 07042021 Michael Morkov DEN Deceuninck QuickStep Mark Cavendish GBR Deceuninck QuickStep photo Peter De VoechtPNBettiniPhoto2021

Cavendish with lead-out man Mørkøv at Scheldeprijs (Image credit: Bettini)
  • Age: 36
  • Tours raced: 12
  • Best result: 30 stage wins and one green jersey

The Manxman, a 30-time stage winner at the Tour, makes his return to the race after three years thanks to Sam Bennett's late withdrawal through a knee injury. The loss of Bennett, who would've been looking to defend his green jersey and add to his two stage wins, has meant a recalibration of the team less than a week before the Grand Départ.

Now, along with Alaphilippe's stage/general classification focus, the team's main hopes of success look to lie with Cavendish in the sprints along with any breakaways the rest of the team go for.

Cavendish, who said that he's in dreamland to be back at the Tour, has returned to winning ways this year – his first back at the Belgian squad after spending five years at Dimension Data and Bahrain. The four stage wins at the Tour of Turkey and one at the Baloise Belgium Tour has already made 2021 his best year since leaving in 2016 but he's still untested at a top WorldTour race this season.

He'll have the best lead-out train in the world helping him and he should be high in confidence following his return to form. There could be seven or eight bunch sprints at the Tour and another win at the age of 36 after the troubles he has been through would be a huge success for Cavendish and Deceuninck-QuickStep.

Michael Mørkøv

  • Age: 36
  • Tours raced: Five
  • Best result: N/A

The Dane is the key man in the Deceuninck-QuickStep lead-out train and has a reputation as the top lead-out man in the world for good reason. Since joining the team in 2018, he has helped deliver a couple of career best seasons for Elia Viviani before last year helping Sam Bennett to green in Paris.

His next task will be working with Cavendish to try and deliver a stage win on the plethora of flat days scattered through the race. The pair have only worked together on five race days so far in 2021, all at the Baloise Belgium Tour.

That's not much, even if Cavendish took a stage win, and they'll have to gel on the fly in France. Even so, though, you wouldn't bet against him and Mørkøv – with his combination of pinpoint positioning, perfect timing, and a phenomenal closing speed – bringing in more success for the team over the next three weeks.

Davide Ballerini

  • Age: 26
  • Tours raced: None
  • Best result: N/A

In the multi-pronged threat that is Deceuninck-QuickStep, Ballerini offers option for success at the Tour. Since turning pro with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec in 2017, he has progressed each year and is now a reliable WorldTour performer.

Last year he won a stage of the Tour de Pologne and came close to success in the Italian Road Championships and at the Giro, while this season he took his biggest win yet at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

He's a fast finisher and could alternate with Cavendish in bids for success in the sprints. It would be something of a surprise to see the 26-year-old take a stage win, but it's far from out of the question.

Kasper Asgreen

OUDENAARDE BELGIUM APRIL 04 Arrival Kasper Asgreen of Denmark and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Celebration Mathieu Van Der Poel of Netherlands and Team AlpecinFenix during the 105th Ronde van Vlaanderen Tour of Flanders 2021 Mens Elite a 2515km race from Antwerp to Oudenaarde RVV21 rondevanvlaanderen tourofflanders on April 04 2021 in Oudenaarde Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Flanders winner Asgreen will be a breakaway threat at the Tour (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
  • Age: 26
  • Tours raced: Two
  • Best result: Second on stage 17 in 2019

The second Dane on the squad will put in work in the lead-out effort during the race but he's also among the first names that spring to mind when you make a list of major breakaway threats among the Tour peloton.

A very strong time triallist – he took his third national title in a row earlier this month – and Classics specialist – he was the man of the spring with wins at E3 Saxo Bank Classic and the Tour of Flanders – Asgreen has all the ingredients to nab a stage win here.

He has two Tours under his belt and came closest to success on his debut in 2019. The transition stage 17 saw him take second place in Gap, 37 seconds behind Matteo Trentin. He's in good form at the moment, having taken two top 10 placings in the opening stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné as well as third in the time trial.

Mattia Cattaneo

  • Age: 30
  • Tours raced: None
  • Best result: N/A

The 30-year-old Italian is in his second year with Deceuninck-QuickStep and is about to start his first Tour de France. He's likely to have a split role during the race.

On one hand he's the strongest climber on the team behind Alaphilippe and should play a key role if the Frenchman does decide on an overall bid. On the other, he's in great form himself and could be a candidate to snatch a win for the team.

Cattaneo is a good all-rounder, strong in the time trial and on the climbs. At the Tour de Romandie he finished 12th overall, picking up three top 10s along the way, while at the Tour de Suisse he placed third and sixth in the time trials, with a third place on the final mountain stage in Andermatt securing a top 10 overall finish.

Third and 11th places at the time trial and road race at the Italian Road Championships confirmed his good form ahead of the Tour and he could be a joker in the pack for Deceuninck-QuickStep here.

Tim Declercq

OUDENAARDE BELGIUM APRIL 04 Tim Declercq of Belgium and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Edoardo Affini of Italy and Team Jumbo Visma Silvan Dillier of Switzerland and Team AlpecinFenix The Peloton passing through Kortekeer during the 105th Ronde van Vlaanderen Tour of Flanders 2021 Mens Elite a 2515km race from Antwerp to Oudenaarde RVV21 rondevanvlaanderen tourofflanders on April 04 2021 in Oudenaarde Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Declercq works at the head of the peloton at the Tour of Flanders (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)
  • Age: 32
  • Tours raced: Two
  • Best result: N/A

If you don't know who Tim Declercq is already, then you will become very familiar with him during the next three weeks. Whether Deceuninck-QuickStep are controlling the break for a sprint finish or working on the front for their GC leader, the Belgian is a near-permanent fixture at the head of the peloton, riding on for hour after hour for his team.

Such is his reputation, Declercq was last year voted as the top domestique in the peloton by his peers as part of Cyclingnews' Domestique Week.

He's more than just a workhorse, though. Last year we saw what he can do when he's not putting in the kilometres leading the peloton, taking fifth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and second at the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne. Both results were behind team leaders, sure, but he's far from a simple domestique.

That's more like the role he will be filling during the Tour, though, so keep an eye out for El Tractor performing that often under-appreciated role day after day.

Dries Devenyns

  • Age: 37
  • Tours raced: Six
  • Best result: 46th in 2011

Finally, we come to veteran Belgian Devenyns who is five years into his second stint at the team, having spent five seasons there earlier in his career.

The 37-year-old will be utilised exclusively as a domestique during what will be his seventh participation at the Tour. Expect to see him working on the flats for the sprint and in the hills for Alaphilippe.

He's a reliable and experienced performer who will be called into action just about everywhere but the sharp end of the decisive mountain stages. Just what a team needs among their eight-man Tour squad.

Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.