Deceuninck-QuickStep endured something of a day to forget at Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen as the strongest team in the race finished off the podium for the second cobbled Classic in a row, with Yves Lampaert taking fourth in the sprint for third place.
On the day that his younger brother Bryan retired from the sport, Julian Alaphilippe made his return to racing after a break following Milan-San Remo. The Frenchman finished 22nd, part of the chasing peloton behind race winner Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers), but without affecting the race himself.
The world champion said afterwards that he had spent the day working for teammates, including Florian Sénéchal, who made the eight-man chase group behind Van Baarle after getting away on the Knokteberg, 35 kilometres from the line. He added that for him, the race was more of a test ahead of Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
"From a personal point of view, I didn't do much," he told L'Equipe. "We really felt the heat, I tried to help the team as best I could. We had Florian in front, but when I blew up on one of the climbs, I didn't have much information about what was going on.
"I didn't ride economically today. I wanted to see where I was, how I had recovered from the Italian races which really tired me."
Alaphilippe also told of how he didn't feel like he was in great shape when he returned to training after San Remo. Deceuninck-QuickStep expects that the Frenchman will be a prime contender on Sunday and Alaphilippe expects to have better legs when he takes the start in Antwerp.
"When I started training again, the feeling was not incredible. That's why I was here without stress, without pressure. But it was OK. I enjoyed myself, even if there was no result at the end. I hope to have better feelings on Sunday."
Elsewhere, the team saw Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Davide Ballerini dropped on the Taaienberg with over 50 kilometres to go, while E3 Saxo Bank Classic winner Kasper Asgreen had a low-profile race before ending his day in 30th place.
For Lampaert, meanwhile, it was the heat which held him back during one of the warmest days of the year in Europe so far. In contrast to teammate Sénéchal, who enjoyed the heat but was undone by cramps in the final, the Belgian told Het Nieuwsblad that he only reached a good level towards the end of the 184-kilometre race.
"The first half of the race was really tough for me," he said. "I only reached my level during the last 35 kilometres, on the [final] climb up the Knokteberg.
"The heat hit me particularly hard. My body was totally unprepared for this kind of weather. The temperature difference with Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday was huge. I think many riders were not at their best because of this."
While Alaphilippe was hopeful about Flanders, Lampaert was more bullish about Deceuninck-QuickStep's prospects, sounding a note of assurance that the squad will put in a better showing at their home race.
"On the Stationsberg I was way too far back in the group. Moreover, I was held up twice by a fall. Kasper Asgreen was even involved in one of those skirmishes," recalled Lampaert.
"Davide Ballerini had a bad day, as did Julian Alaphilippe. However, this does not say much in the run-up to the Tour of Flanders. Sunday we will have a very different race. You can be sure of that."
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