Yves Lampert may not possess the palmarès of Philippe Gilbert, Niki Terpstra, or even Zdenek Stybar, but he underlined his status and leadership credentials within the Quick-Step Floors team with a victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
The Belgian came of age with a solo win in this very race 12 months ago, and his doubling up – combined with the way he lit up E3 Harelbeke on Friday – has put himself right in the frame for the Tour of Flanders.
Alongside Terpstra, who went on to win solo in E3 Harelbeke, Lampaert has been the most eye-catching Quick-Step rider of the Classics so far, although race situations have meant that Gilbert and Stybar haven't yet been let fully off the leash. Consequently, with just four days until the Tour of Flanders, there was an obvious line of questioning in the race winner's press conference in Waregem.
"I go again in my position. I feel very strong, but the whole team is very strong. We can go again with a four-man leadership. That will be Terpstra, Stybar, Gilbert and me," Lampaert said.
When asked if there was a hierarchy within that structure, he responded confidently: "I think we are all on the same level.
"We just have to make sure that we don't go into defence mode, that we go in attack mode, and let the other leaders have to chase us."
That's certainly what happened on Wednesday, as Quick-Step outnumbered their rivals in the front group with Lampaert, Stybar, and Terpstra. Having options is the perennial theme of the Belgian team at their beloved Spring Classics, and once they get numbers up the road it's not a case of choosing one to ride for, but rather going on the front foot and seeing who ends up in the right move.
"We've got seven riders, and today we had to watch how the race developed with the weather conditions, so we said at the start 'OK, if it looks like it's going to be a bunch sprint we go for [Elia] Viviani, but the other players - me, Stybar, Terpstra - could try to make the race hard, because there were a lot of good sprinters today," Lampaert explained.
"The bunch exploded after the Trieu and then on the Kortekeer and Stationsberg, and we lost Viviani. From then on it was me, Stybar and Terpstra in the front so we got to play a bit with our positions. We couldn't let a break go without us, then on the Varent, Vanmarcke attacked, Niki shouted to me, 'go!', and I went in."
Lampaert had the nous but also the legs to take victory from the resulting group of four, confirming his progress since his title here 12 months ago. He went on to claim the Belgian national time trial title last June before winning a stage of the Vuelta a España with a late attack.
So far this spring he was away with Terpstra for much of E3 Harelbeke before making the selection at Gent-Wevelgem, and now raising his arms in victory.
"My shape is really good. It was already good from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and it just came better in Paris-Nice," he said. "Then you could see at E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, I was really in good shape – just the result was not there."
He described E3 as a 'good exercise', despite being unable to accompany Terpstra in the final 25 kilometres. "I learned a lot from it. Maybe I have to ride a bit smarter…"
The build-up to the Tour of Flanders intensifies steadily throughout the week, and now with Dwars out of the way, it's sure to go into overdrive with just four days to go. Asked directly about his own chances on Sunday, Lampaert deferred to the collective.
"I think it'll be difficult for me personally to win, but with the team, we are capable of winning, that's for sure," he said.
"We are one team, and we are all of the opinion that it doesn't matter who wins, but the team has to win. If we're there with one guy in front and you're in the back, you do everything to make sure they don't come back. Today we proved again we are very strong. It's the same plan for Flanders. It doesn't matter who wins, as long as the team takes victory."
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