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Patrick Lefevere: It hurt to let Niki Terpstra go

Patrick Lefevere was happy to preside over another successful season for his Quick-Step Floors team, during which the Belgian WorldTour squad chalked up no fewer than 73 victories, including the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Lefevere has had to wave goodbye to a couple of his star riders in the shape of Flanders winner Niki Terpstra, who will ride for Direct Energie next year, and double Tour de France stage winner Fernando Gaviria, who has joined UAE Team Emirates for 2019.

But the team is in as rude a health as ever, having secured the services of junior time trial and road race world champion Remco Evenepoel and, perhaps most importantly, a new title sponsor in the shape of window manufacturer Deceuninck, with the team to be called Deceuninck-QuickStep next year.

Lefevere spends a lot of his time talking about money: money to pay his riders and staff, and trying to find sponsors to give him money to run the team.

"When you win a lot of races, the riders ask for more money," Lefevere admitted to L'Equipe. "It hurt to have to let Niki go."

Lefevere said that his favourite of the team's 73 wins was that Flanders victory by Terpstra.

"I'm Flemish, so I of course liked how Niki won it, with the help of Philippe Gilbert," he said. "But what gave me the greatest pleasure of all was the teamwork and togetherness. At no point did I ever feel any kind of jealousy in the team. Everyone wanted to win, and everyone was raising their game."

In the same way as he had to let his Flanders winner go, Lefevere said he struggled to find the budget to retain Gaviria.

"I had a budget to stick to, and, at the age of 63, I wasn't about to put my hand in my own pocket. So I gave up trying to keep Gaviria when we still had three other sprinters: Elia Viviani, Fabio Jakobsen and Alvaro Hodeg."

Another of the team's top performers – Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe – will stay with the team, but had a disappointing end to his season when he was unable to match the expectation of him at the World Championship road race in Innsbruck, Austria, at the end of September, where he was one of the favourites to take the rainbow jersey.

"Julian would have been beautiful world champion," Lefevere told L'Equipe. "I was worried, as I didn't have a good feeling about the French team ahead of the race, but all three riders [Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot and silver medallist Romain Bardet] were in top form, and were in the mix right to the end. They may not have been able to win, but you can't be disappointed that Julian ran out of steam just six kilometres before the finish."

Those 73 victories serve as a reminder that Quick-Step are as successful as ever. "When Tom Boonen stopped, and when Dan Martin, Marcel Kittel and Matteo Trentin all left us [in 2017], I heard: 'The Quick-Step team won't win anymore.' But we've always continued to race. We're not cowards," Lefevere said, adding: "I have a bad character trait. I hate losing."

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