Alaphilippe was spotted in Flanders this week on a training ride with Kasper Asgreen, prompting speculation that he might be a late addition to the Ronde start list, but the world champion was not included in the seven-man team announced by QuickStep-AlphaVinyl on Thursday morning. Alaphilippe owns an apartment in Ronse, which he uses as a training base.
The defending champion Asgreen will lead QuickStep’s challenge after skipping Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, and he will be supported by Tim Declercq, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, Jannik Steimle, Zdenek Stybar and Bert Van Lerberghe.
Alaphilippe, who crashed out of the winning break at the Tour of Flanders in 2020, has opted to focus on the Ardennes Classics this Spring, and he is scheduled to ride Itzulia Basque Country next week.
QuickStep have won this race eight times – with Tom Boonen (2005, 2006 and 2012), Stijn Devolder (2008 and 2009), Philippe Gilbert (2017), Niki Terpstra (2018) and Asgreen (2021) – but they have fallen short of expectations on the cobbles this season.
Both Lampaert and Stybar are struggling for condition after illness forced them to abandon Paris-Nice, while Declercq only returned at Dwars door Vlaanderen after spending over a month out of competition with pericarditis.
Lampaert told Het Nieuwsblad on Wednesday that he's not hopefuly ahead of Sunday's race. "I can ride tempo but the explosiveness is not there. Sunday comes too soon for me," he said. "All those illnesses in the team make us not good enough."
Asgreen was the team's best performer at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, where he placed 10th, and at Gent-Wevelgem, where he finished 32nd. The Dane showcased his form earlier in March by placing third at Strade Bianche, but on this occasion, he looks set to line out at the Ronde as a lone leader rather than as one option among many.
"Looking over the course there aren't that many changes, so we know what to expect. The difference is, of course, the team that is not on full strength, with all the sickness that has struck us. But despite this, we have the belief that on Sunday we will play a part in the race," said directeur sportif Tom Steels.
"Kasper showed he's one of the best out there at the moment. We have Florian and Jannik, who also proved they are ready, even though Florian had a lot of bad luck in the past races. Tim, Yves, Zdenek and Bert know the parcours, they are experienced, so even with some condition they can handle the course and do something good.
"Of course, it goes without saying that we aren't the big favourites for this race. We will have to ride smart to get a good result, but that doesn't mean we aren't confident."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.