In a team of Tom Boonens, Niki Terpstras, and Philippe Gilberts, it can be hard for a younger, quieter rider to stand out. Yet Yves Lampaert has grown in stature in the past two years and now emerges as perhaps Deceuninck-QuickStep's principal threat in the Classics.
Lampaert, a thoroughbred West-Flandrien from a farming family in Izegem, joined QuickStep in 2015 after treading the well-worn path through the Topsport set-up. He finished in the top 10 in his first Paris-Roubaix for QuickStep, although 2016 was something of a waste as he was forced out of the whole spring campaign with an Achilles injury.
2017, however, proved a breakthrough year as he won Dwars door Vlaanderen after forging clear with Gilbert in a late three-man move. After winning a stage at the Vuelta a España later in the year, Lampaert returned to the Classics in 2018 and played a more prominent role. He went back and won Dwars - this time without a teammate to profit from in the decisive selection - and also spent a memorable day off the front at E3 Harelbeke in a long-range two-up attack with Terpstra, who went on to win.
"I had a great Classics season, with some nice victories for the team," Lampaert told Cyclingnews at Deceuninck-QuickStep's recent team presentation. "It was a case of steady progression. Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2017 was the big breakthrough and from then on it was about taking more responsibility."
That responsibility was enhanced - along with the success of his season as a whole - when he won the Belgian national title in June, putting him in the red, black, and yellow jersey for 12 months. In December he was named Belgian cyclist of the year in the Het Nieuwsblad awards.
"The status came especially after becoming Belgian champion. It feels good wearing the jersey. You get more respect, from all the riders. Also I'm a normal guy and the Belgian public are happy for me that I am champion, so that's a nice thing."
Lampaert's rise has coincided with a number of departures from QuickStep in recent years. Stijn Vandenbergh left at the end of 2016, Tom Boonen left after the 2017 Classics, and now Terpstra and Fernando Gaviria have moved on after securing more lucrative contracts elsewhere while QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere scrambled for fresh backing.
"I will get, now, more responsibility. I hope to be in good health and good shape and I can show that I'm ready for it," Lampaert said. "I don't put any more pressure on myself, but I feel that that people expect more of me.
"Patrick believes in me, he trusts me, he knows I'm always fighting for the best results. He told me he expects more of me now, but it's nice that he expects more of me. I've been in the team for four years and I'm coming up to 28, so I'm at a point where I need to show what I can do."
Lampaert acknowledged that his new-found status will affect his approach to racing, as he'll no longer able to operate in the shadows of his more high-profile teammates.
"I guess people will be more careful of me," he said. "It will change the way I race. I cannot anticipate like I did before. But I'm really happy to ride the finales. We also have a lot of other guys in the team who can win, so if people want to ride on my wheel they will have Gilbert, [Zdenek] Stybar and [Bob] Jungels to think about. It's always difficult to focus on one rider."
Lefevere: We cannot hide him anymore
Lefevere has placed his faith in Lampaert. He handed him a new contract this autumn with a much-improved salary, and has told him privately that he expects him to assume more responsibility for the team's success this spring.
"He is a man with his feet on the ground. He always said 'I'm in service of the team,' and that's always a way to hide, but now we cannot hide him anymore," Lefevere told Cyclingnews.
"Firstly, because with the Belgian champion's jersey he has more visibility, and secondly because with Niki and Gaviria leaving he steps up. When you step up not only prestige-wise but also money-wise, you have to go further."
In terms of Lampaert's abilities as a rider, Lefevere knows he is a powerful rouleur for whom the cobbles and bergs of Flanders are an entirely natural environment. What will need work, he explained, is his race craft.
"I believe he can win a big race for sure, otherwise I would not have kept him, but he has to ride more with his head and not with his heart," Lefevere said.
"In his heart he is a wild guy. He likes cycling so much. When you remember E3 with Niki, in the front with the two of them, he was so generous that he killed himself. Modern cycling is also about being smart."
If Lampaert can put those pieces together, he should play a big role in the narrative of the coming spring.
"I think I'm capable of riding finales in the Classics and, of course, I'm dreaming of winning a big one, like the Tour of Flanders," he said. "We will try, and hope that it's possible."
Sportful leads the market with innovative and technical apparel so you can experience those unforgettable moments, your very best days on a bike.