The Deceuninck-QuickStep team have won 46 races so far this season and are hungry to continue their winning streak at the Tour de France, targeting the opening stage - and with it the first race leader's yellow jersey - on Saturday through Elia Viviani and also Sunday’s team time trial. Both stages take place in Brussels, and if the Belgian team can win on home roads, they hope the momentum will help Julian Alaphilippe win other stages and inspire Enric Mas to perform well in the general classification.
Team manager Patrick Lefevere is always hungry for success but also knows how to avoid putting hid riders under too much pressure.
"I’ll be happy if we keep winning. We're ambitious, especially for the opening stages. We've also got Enric for the GC in his first Tour and let's have some fun with Julian Alaphilippe like last year," Lefevere said on Thursday.
"Of course, everything looks beautiful on paper. A few years ago we thought we'd win a lot with [Marcel] Kittel but [Mark] Cavendish beat us three times. So let's keep our feet on the ground, too, let stay focused and I'm sure everything will go alright."
Viviani and Alaphilippe took centre stage at Deceuninck-QuickStep's press event in a Brussels Lidl supermarket.
The Italian showed signs that the expectations and pressure on him are growing as the hours count down to the expected first sprint in Brussels. He was happy to get his sprinting back on track at the Tour de Suisse after a disastrous Giro d'Italia and was happy to have key lead-out men Maximiliano Richeze and Michael Morkov with him in the eight-rider squad for the Tour de France.
"I don't know how many sprints I'll have in the Tour but I know the first one is the main goal," Viviani admitted.
"I know the first and last stages at the Tour are the most important and most beautiful to win for a sprinter. Of course we've got strong rivals, so we need to be perfect."
Viviani is back at the Tour de France after a five-year absence but he knows the sprints are always more complex, more aggressive and more demanding than any other.
"We know our lead-out is our strength and so we have to be confident. My life is really easy with these guys in front of me when they've all committed. It's about power but also about precision in the right moment and Michael knows how to make the right decisions in a split second before Max takes over and leads me to the finish.
"Every finale is different so we have to have a good plan and do everything perfectly. I need my lead-out in order to win a stage at the Tour."
Alaphilippe hints at a spell in yellow
Julian Alaphilippe's hugely successful first part of the season has elevated him to a new level. He is still the darling of the French fans after his two stage victories and polka-dot jersey in last year's Tour, but is also a highly successful Classics rider, capable of attacking and winning on any stage that suits him.
He is not ruling out a few days in yellow, if Deceuninck-QuickStep gain time on their rivals in the team time trial ahead of the punchy finish in Epernay when the race hits French soil on stage 3.
"I'm still very proud of last year's Tour, it's a great memory and I'm even more motivated for this one," Alaphilippe said.
"The objective is to win. If I can take yellow in the first week, that would be great, then there's other stages for the polka-dot jersey. The target is trying to win and the rest is a bonus.
With so many strong riders and so many tactical options, Deceuninck-QuickStep could, in theory, target every stage of the Tour de France, with Mas riding carefully and conservatively and thinking of the overall classification.
The 24-year-old Spaniard finished second overall in the Vuelta a España last year but seemed a little overawed as he prepared for his Tour de France debut.
"My goal is to survive the first week. My first Tour will be difficult," he said, his confidence perhaps undermined by a subdued ninth place at the Tour de Suisse.
"After finishing second in last year’s Vuelta I’m more ambitious but I’m here to learn. I think we have the best team for the first nine days and then we have Julian for breaks and then we’re going to try for the GC, for as long as possible - I hope until the last day."
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