QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team manager Patrick Lefevere cut a quiet, slightly sad figure at Milan-San Remo, after a long series of illnesses and injuries left the Belgian team without a true contender for the Italian Monument and sparked concerns over whether they can be competitive on home turf in the rapidly approaching cobbled Classics.
Lefevere has occasionally fueled internal rivalry in his team to motivate his riders to win more but tried to avoid the subject when Cyclingnews asked if it was possible to take both riders to the Tour de France.
Cavendish and Jakobsen were given separate 2022 race programmes, with the Manxman set to ride the Giro d’Italia and the Dutchman the Tour de France. However, after both took several impressive early-season wins, Lefevere admitted that both are on the long-list for July, with the best rider securing selection.
"Why do you want to speak about the Tour de France? We’re at Milan-San Remo. All the English-speaking press keeps making this match. It's perhaps fun to set up Jakobsen against Cavendish. But we decide certain things and we won't change," Lefevere told Cyclingnews bluntly.
Cavendish won Milano-Torino last week in the build-up to Milan-San Remo but when Alaphilippe pulled out of the race due to illness, Jakobsen was given a late call-up. There was little chance of a sprint finish but the Dutchman rode to gain experience for the future and finished 86th in a group of riders timed at 6:01 behind winner Matej Mohorič.
Cavendish, who won Milan-San Remo in 2009, let slip that he was not even contacted by the team about riding La Classicissima, hinting he was riding a race programme that didn’t include "any big races".
Lefevere denied there were A and B race programmes in his team that somehow favour certain riders. Cavendish has been selected for Wednesday’s Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne WorldTour race, while Jakobsen is due to ride Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday and then Scheldeprijs on April 6.
"We don't have a 'B programme', or an 'A programme', we only have 'programmes'," Lefevere insisted to Cyclingnews.
"Cavendish was not in [the plans for Milan-San Remo] from the beginning. He's also sick, he won the other day but he still has a cold. He came to Belgium and he has a bruise on his hip, too. We prefer him to have at 100 per cent with good legs. We saw that he's not at 100 per cent but he still wins."
On the back foot for the cobbled Classics
QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, like many other teams, have been forced to juggle their race rosters and spring objectives due to COVID-19 cases, illness and injury.
Alaphlippe had set Milan-San Remo as his first major goal of the season but crashed hard at Strade Bianche and fell ill after racing in the cold of Tirreno-Adriatico. He will return for Itzulia Basque Country in early April before targeting the Ardennes Classics.
Yves Lampaert got sick at Paris-Nice and faces a race against time to be ready for the cobbled Classics. Key domestique Tim Declercq has not raced since February due to a pericarditis diagnosis after catching COVID-19 following the Saudi Tour. Davide Ballerini was also unable to ride Milan-San Remo due to illness, while Rémi Cavagna only started his season in Italy last week and James Knox starts his season at this week’s Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali.
"It's difficult for everybody in the team, the riders and the staff but luckily they understand that we are not the only team with problems. There’s a virus running around in the group and nobody can stop it for the moment," Lefevere explained, trying to see his glass half full.
"Kasper Asgreen avoided riding Milan-San Remo. His shape is good as we saw at Strade Bianche, so if he stays okay he can be a big factor in the cobbled Classics.
"[Florian] Sénéchal and [Zdenek] Stybar have recovered too and now we have to see what happens with Lampaert. We still have some time. The first big, big race is Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday."
Lefevere admitted that QuickStep-AlphaVinyl may not be as aggressive or as dominant as usual in the cobbled Classics.
"It's not our house style to race defensively but we have to adapt the style. I can’t break steel with my hands, I’m not superman. It is what it is," he said.
"We’re suffering but we won't lie down and cry."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.