2013 Report Card: Omega Pharma-QuickStep

Omega Pharma-QuickStep 2013
WorldTour Ranking: 7th/19
Win Count: 57
Top riders: Michal Kwiatkowski (23rd), Sylvain Chavanel (24th), Zdenek Stybar (26th), Mark Cavendish (29th).
Grade: A-

The tone for Omega Pharma-QuickStep's 2013 season was set by Mark Cavendish when he made his debut for the Belgian squad at Argentina's Tour de San Luis in late January. The Manx Missile claimed the first stage plus the leader's jersey in his first competitive outing of the year and then the victories just kept coming for the team - 57 in all for 2013, the most of any WorldTour squad by a long shot - all the way through to the final event in Europe, the Chrono des Nations time trial on October 20, won by the year's time trial superstar Tony Martin.

All in all the squad racked up two world championships (a repeat of Tony Martin's time trial title as well as the squad's team time trial title), 24 victories at the WorldTour level (including stage wins in all three Grand Tours), and five national championships with 11 different riders earning wins during the season. More than half the team's victories, however, were courtesy of two riders: Mark Cavendish and Tony Martin.

Cavendish would win 19 races during his first year in Omega Pharma kit, from January in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis through late September in his home Tour of Britain. The Manxman hit the ground running in 2013 with four stage wins plus the overall victory at the Tour of Oman in early February, a stint in the leader's jersey at Tirreno-Adriatico, and a stage win at Three Days of De Panne.

Cavendish had a masterful Giro d'Italia where he won five stages and the points classification (becoming just the fifth rider in history to win the points jersey at all three Grand Tours) plus wore the maglia rosa after winning the opening stage. Additionally, he surpassed the career 100 win mark during the Giro.

By Cavendish's lofty standards he had a sub-par Tour de France where he "only" won two stages and was denied a fifth-straight victory on the final day in Paris Champs-Élysées. Cavendish's winning ways were rounded out in August and September with a stage win at the Tour of Denmark followed by three at the Tour of Britain.

After Cavendish, Tony Martin was Omega Pharma-QuickStep's winningest rider with 12 individual victories on the year plus two more in team time trials, including a successful defense of their time trial world championship.

Martin's prowess against the clock was impressive as he won 10 individual time trials on the year, including his second straight world championship, and his overall victories at the Volta ao Algarve and Tour of Belgium also were rooted in time trial stage wins. Five of the time trial stage wins were at the WorldTour level - Tirreno-Adriatico, Pais Vasco, Tour de Romandie, Criterium du Dauphine, Tour de France - and he added a national time trial title to his palmares as well. And after losing the Tour de France time trial by less than a second to Orica-GreenEdge, Martin was part of the team's world championship squad that turned the tables on the Australian team and defended their world title by less than a second.

Gianni Meersman was new to the team in 2013 had a solid season with wins in the first two stages at the Volta a Catalunya (plus a stint in the leader's jersey), victory in stages 1 and 3 at the Tour de Romandie, the points classification title at the Criterium du Dauphine plus a prologue victor at the Tour de l'Ain.

Zdenek Stybar further confirmed his talent on the road with two stages wins and the overall victory at the WorldTour's Eneco Tour, followed less than two weeks later by his first Grand Tour stage victory in stage 7 at the Vuelta a Espana. Earlier in the spring he had a breakthrough performance at Paris-Roubaix (6th place), but suffered a heartbreaking crash in the finale which crushed a potential podium finish.

While Michal Kwiatkowski only notched one win on the year, Poland's national road championship, the young Pole showed off his considerable class with an 11th place GC finish in his debut Tour de France, including 10 days in the best young rider's jersey. Earlier in the season he placed second overall at the Volta ao Algarve stage race, won by teammate Tony Martin, followed by a fourth place result in his first WorldTour stage race of the season: Tirreno-Adriatico (where he also enjoyed a stint in the leader's jersey). Not only a stage racing talent to watch, Kwiatkowski notched top five finishes in the spring at Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne plus another top-five result at the GP de Wallonie in September.

Matteo Trentin won his first Grand Tour stage at this year's Tour de France while Kristof Vandewalle and Nikolas Maes each won stage races for the squad at Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen and World Ports Classic respectively.

If one can find fault with the team's season it's that it failed to deliver a marquee one-day victory in the Classics. The only mass-start, one-day races claimed by Omega Pharma-QuickStep were the national road race championships won by Mark Cavendish and Michal Kwiatkowski. Every other road race victory came within stage races. In recent years the team could count on at least one major Classics victory in the spring, but the team had been heavily reliant on Tom Boonen for those. The Belgian had a truly dismal season in a year marred by crashes and later a cyst which ended his year in late July. His sole win of the year came at the Tour de Wallonie in July, just prior to ending his season.

It wasn't for lack of trying as Sylvain Chavanel was in for the kill at Milan-San Remo and finished just off the podium in 4th, Mark Cavendish placed 2nd at the Scheldeprijs (denied a fourth straight victory by Marcel Kittel), Stijn Vandenbergh finished 2nd at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Niki Terpstra earned a podium finish at Paris-Roubaix by taking the sprint for 3rd place. While the team did place a rider on the podium at Hell of the North, it was a case of 'what might have been' as both Vandenbergh and then Zdenek Stybar crashed out of the winning break late in the race due to collisions with spectators, leaving only Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke to duel for victory in the Roubaix velodrome.

What to expect in 2014:
On paper, it looks as if Omega Pharma-QuickStep is well-equipped to again win more races than any other WorldTour team of wins, but of course Lady Luck and any number of factors might temper their tally. With the Tour de France starting in England, Mark Cavendish's number 1 priority of the season is the Grand Boucle and with the Manxman's favoured lead-out man Mark Renshaw joining the team next year the ace sprinter is in prime position to notch victories throughout the season.

Barring any crashes a motivated and healthy Tom Boonen will captain the team in the cobbled Classics and is eager to go head-to-head with the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan. Also on the pave front, Boonen has his eye on the cobbled stage early in the Tour.

Tony Martin can be expected to dominate time trials once again, while burgeoning talent Michal Kwiatkowski is primed to step up even more in stage races as well as the Ardennes Classics.

While the team has been adept at winning shorter stage races as well as Grand Tour stages, a seismic shift in the team's Grand Tour general classification ambitions will take place with the signing of Rigoberto Uran for 2014. Stage winner and runner-up at the 2013 Giro d'Italia, Uran provides the overall contender the team's been lacking and with podium finishes in events such as Il Lombardia, the Olympic Games road race, GP de Quebec as well as fifth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in his palmares, the Colombian will provide options in one-day events as well.

Omega Pharma-QuickStep will have to address the balance between GC objectives and properly supporting Cavendish during the Grand Tours, but manager Patrick Lefevere has hinted that Uran may opt for a Giro/Vuelta double while Cavendish may skip the Giro to focus on the Tour.

The team's options for shorter stage races as well as the Ardennes Classics deepen with the arrival of Jan Bakelants and Wout Poels to the roster for 2014 while Thomas De Gendt has been offered a one-year lifeline to see if he can return to the form which garnered him a Giro stage win and third place overall finish in 2012.

Top to bottom the team has the ability to win on any terrain but time will tell whether their results can match their immense breadth of talent.

Best signing:
While Mark Renshaw's addition to the team is welcome news for Mark Cavendish, Rigoberto Uran provides the team the Grand Tour contender that's been missing from the roster. Much will be expected of Uran as he assumes undisputed leadership of the team in Grand Tours, but the talented Colombian certainly has the capacity to deliver on that front.

Biggest loss:
After a five-year stint on the squad, Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel has moved on to Pro Continental team IAM Cycling for the 2014 season. Chavanel is a truly versatile performer who's delivered the team multiple Grand Tour stage wins (plus stints in the leader's jersey at both the Tour and Vuelta), both road and time trial national titles, victories in shorter stage races (such as Three Days of De Panne), and a rock solid presence in the Spring Classics. It's a credit to the depth of Omega Pharma-QuickStep that his loss won't have a catastrophic impact on their ability to win races, but the gap in team chemistry will be harder to fill. As team manager Patrick Lefevere said, "It’s been hard for us to go our separate ways because he’s not just a great rider, he’s a great person."

Who to watch:
When asked if Michal Kwiatkowski's future lies in stage races or the Classics, team manager Patrick Lefevere responded, with a laugh - “good question.” The sky's the limit for the 23-year-old Pole...just what can he accomplish in 2014?

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