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Team Quick Step on the eve of a crucial season

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Team manager Patrick Lefevere

Team manager Patrick Lefevere
(Image credit: Stijn Vercaemer)
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Paolo Bettini, the current world champion,

Paolo Bettini, the current world champion,
(Image credit: Stijn Vercaemer)

By Brecht Decaluwé in Kortrijk

The Belgian Pro Tour team Quick Step – Innergetic officially presented their squad to the attending press on Friday, and just a few hours later they repeated the presentation for the visitors of the Velofollies exhibition in Kortrijk, Belgium. Rather than focusing on today's rumors circulating about Tom Boonen's romantic life, Team manager Patrick Lefevre started off by telling members of the press about his decision to step down as president of the AIGCP, the difficulties of finding a new sponsor and, of course, about his 2008 line-up.

The Belgian manager reviewed all of his riders, taking a final look back at the 2007 season. "It wasn't an easy year, and for the first time in fourteen years we didn't win a Spring Classic," said Lefevre, who admitted the team had also been troubled with doping allegations.

Lefevre had led the cycling team's union, but stepped down after the Tour de France. "Everybody was blaming the teams and the riders for the doping perils. Then again, when you see that the organizers and federations are keeping mud fights, then it's obvious that the value of cycling is brought down; just like in Belgium there's no government in the cycling world," said Lefevre who was referring to local political problems.

After thanking members of the press who stayed calm and engaged throughout the tumultuous 2007 season, he said, "With the ARD case people could see how you shouldn't practice journalism. With the whereabouts system and the bio-passports the riders are giving up on a major part of their private life. Hopefully we still have some credit left," Lefevre asked for faith in his racers. "Hopefully the sporting aspects [of cycling] will win over non-sporting troubles [like doping]."

Looking at the 2008 season, Lefevre declined to show much enthusiasm. He failed to find a new main sponsor last year, and time is running out. "2008 will be a very important year. Everybody in the team is at the end of their term – riders, sponsors, mechanics, managers... which is the result of the ProTour system which obliged us to work in terms of four year," said Lefevre with regard to the effects of the UCI's ProTour structure.

Lefevre said that a new main sponsor had been expected to take over from Quick Step and Innergetic, but due to the doping problems in the sport, it decided not to support the team. Luckily for the managers and riders, current sponsors decided to extend their support for another year.

"Normally we would've stopped, but when the new main sponsor pulled out we took responsibility and stayed together, with Frans [De Cock from Quick Step]," said Luc Maes from Latexco of Innergetic. Quick Step has supported Lefevre for a decade, while Innergetic has been a faithful co-sponsor for four years.

The team's line-up for this critical season bears a strong resemblance to the 2007 squad, with only Matteo Carrara (Unibet), Alexander Efimkin (Barloworld) and Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) being new names and veterans Serge Baguet, Peter Van Petegem and Cedric Vasseur gone after ending their careers.

With the defending Tour de France's green jersey of Tom Boonen and the double World Champion Paolo Bettini on the team, it is obvious that Quick Step will be there in the bunch sprints and the big one-day races. For the Grand Tours the team has plenty of talent, although it is lacking a clear leader who has proven he has a chance for a podium finish in Paris.

Read the complete feature.