Quick-Step Floors team manager Patrick Lefevere believes that with the full backing of his Belgian outfit new signing Elia Viviani can trump outgoing sprinter Marcel Kittel in the victory stakes next year. Kittel is set to join Katusha-Alpecin next season after two years with Lefevere's team with Viviani coming in to replace the German in their line-up.
"If my memory is okay, Kittel won 14 races and Viviani nine. So, when he joins our team then maybe it will be the opposite," Lefevere told Cyclingnews at last week's Rouleur Classic. "I don't say that he didn't have the help of his teammates at Sky, it would not be correct to say this, but it is different. If we are focused on him, I hope that we can kick his ass."
With other big name riders moving to rival teams in 2018, Lefevere had hoped to keep Kittel on board. Explaining to German sponsor Lidl why Kittel would not be with the team next year was a difficult, but the 29-year-old did not want to compete with Fernando Gaviria. Both wanted to be designated sprinter at the 2018 Tour de France.
"If I'm honest, I wanted to keep him. You have to understand that Lidl is one of the biggest companies in the world and they're German. He's German and a very good looking guy, he speaks very well. That was very important," explained Lefevere.
"My contract wasn't signed with Lidl and he said that he would leave the team. That was a very tough moment for me, to explain to those people who aren't specialist in cycling that their star rider leaves the team. He said that he didn't want to compete with Gaviria. I don't understand, but it is his choice."
Gaviria: Three-quarters of the way there
However things pan out with Viviani, Quick-Step Floors have retained the services of Gaviria until at least 2019 after agreeing a two-year extension to his contract at the start of August.
Speaking to Cyclingnews, Lefevere emphasised the importance of quality over quantity when it came to victories – less is more the Belgian manager said – and Gaviria delivered for Quick-Step Floors in 2017. In his second year as a professional, the Colombian took nine WorldTour wins including four at the Giro d'Italia and next year he will make his debut at the Tour de France.
There is little doubt that Gaviria has talent by the bucket load, but as he finishes his neo-pro years, it is about nurturing that talent and making sure his ego doesn't get too big.
"He's so talented that with not so much work he can win. He has to understand that it's not always that easy," Lefevere said.
"He's so talented, I think that if he stays with his feet on the ground and he doesn't start 'flying' then he can go a long way. He's so impatient because he's talented and he wants to have it all in one year."
Lefevere says that an important part of keeping Gaviria grounded is ensuring he knows his place within the team and that talent needs to be supported by knowledge from the more experienced riders. This season has been a steep learning curve for Gaviria, but there is still more to do in the coming year.
"We have some key people on the team who are able to say yes you are very important but you are not the most important rider on the team," said Lefevere.
"He should listen to Iljo Keisse if he says 'You have to come to the front with me in Flanders or in Waregem, because on this corner it happens.' This year, he has already learned 75 per cent and I hope that next year he will complete the other 25 per cent."
Completing the Monuments with Gilbert
Along with Gaviria and a whole host of other names, Philippe Gilbert also extended his contract with Quick-Step Floors for another two years. Gilbert came to the team on a one-year deal after a five-year stint at BMC that had yielded mixed results.
Lefevere was initially doubtful about signing a 34-year-old Gilbert who had, aside from the odd result, appeared to have lost his way. It was Gilbert's desire to make history that convinced the hard to please team manager to take him on.
"In life, it isn't all about condition, it is about motivation and focus. I believe in focusing," explained Lefevere. "He called me, and I said Philippe don't waste your time or my time, I can't pay you. He said, within 30 seconds, it's not about money. He said: 'I have three gaps in my palmares, Flanders, Roubaix and San Remo and you're the only team I can complete my palmares. It's not about money'.
"I was even more surprised when riders like Stybar and others said that it was 'really a bonus to the team because he is giving us advice and motivating us.' I knew what Philippe was because I've known him since he was 15, but I didn't know he was such a big motivator."
Gilbert delivered on his promise in spades when he took a dramatic victory at the Tour of Flanders in April, attacking on the Oude Kwaremont and soloing to the line.
Two weeks later he beat Michal Kwiatkowski to take his fourth Amstel Gold victory. However a tear to his right kidney forced him to miss the rest of the Classics. With the Tour of Flanders in his back pocket, Gilbert needs to win Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix to become only the fourth rider to complete the set of Classics victories.
Lefevere believes his rider can do it.
"Sure, I was very surprised about how motivated he was to win Flanders and he did it," Lefevere told Cyclingnews. "Roubaix I'm doubting a little bit more but he's from the Ardennes and they are strong.
"Why Philippe couldn't do it next year at Roubaix? In Roubaix, you can really play with tactics. If you have a strong team then you can play chess and we are strong at chess. It's very easy. Business and cycling is the same. You see that you don't have to change your computer, they have to change you."