Deceuninck-QuickStep failed to convert a strong lead-out in the stage 1 sprint and missed out on the victory in the stage 2 team time trial, which will be considered a disappointing Brussels Grand Départ on home soil at the Tour de France. The team's director Tom Steels was able to put their third place in the team time trial into perspective - "I don't think we've done a bad job, but [Jumbo-Visma] were on another level."
There's little time to contemplate about the performances in the Grand Départ because on Monday there's a new opportunity that suits the Belgian team. The 215km stage from Binche leads the peloton to Épernay in France. The four categorised climbs in the final kilometres and the uphill finish on the Côte de Mutigny surely suit French climber Julian Alaphilippe.
Steels confirmed as much saying, "The finish on Monday suits Julian but it suits many other riders too. It'll be a spicy finale. It'll be a nervous day for the GC-riders, too."
Throughout the team time trial effort from the riders of team Deceuninck-QuickStep, it was clear that they were battling it out with Team Ineos. The British team took off first in Brussels and set a high standard. Team Katusha-Alpecin managed to dive under their times at the intermediate points halfway through the afternoon, but the team fell six seconds short at the finish line next to the iconic Atomium.
Also, the Deceuninck-QuickStep managed to be faster at the first intermediate point. They were third to last to start, and they were two seconds faster after 13km with 13:56. At the second intermediate point, the two teams both clocked 21:11. In the final kilometres, the balance tilted towards Ineos who finished under one second faster.
For Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere, it must have been quite a blow. At the team's press conference he stated that despite being multiple team time trial world champions, his riders never managed to win the team time trial in the Tour de France.
When crossing the finish line, the crowd released a big 'ooooh' as to express their disappointment when the popular home team narrowly missed out on the lead position. Former Belgian champion Yves Lampaert is one of the strong men in the team, and as he rolled away from the finish line, he released a few big shouts with the f-word. What he didn't know at that moment was that Jumbo-Visma just smashed the time at the first intermediate point by more than ten seconds with 13:44.
"It's disappointing because we're so close behind Ineos, but knowing that Jumbo is already that much ahead of us, it means that we need to be satisfied with third place. It means that these guys took off really fast and we will likely finish in third place," Lampaert said.
When searching for the 78 hundredths of a second which they lost on Ineos, Lampaert didn't have to think long. "We probably ended up riding with six guys too early which made it hard to recover. Ineos finished with six riders too, but they probably rode longer with seven riders. Every detail is important in the Tour and an additional ten or twenty seconds to recover is a world of difference," Lampaert said.
The recent winner of the time trial in the Tour de Suisse and third at Paris-Roubaix will now settle back into a role of domestique at the Tour de France. "I felt really good, and I think I was able to do my part of the work. I have to be satisfied. If there's a stage where I can try something, then I will do it, but I also need to save energy to be able to do my work. I'm here to bring Viviani and Alaphilippe into position and help [Enric] Mas where I can, but there are no real personal ambitions here for me," Lampaert said.
When asked about the team's GC-rider Mas, Lampaert had words of praise for the young Spaniard. "He was really good. I didn't expect him to be as good as he was. The parcours of this team time trial wasn't ideally suited for him. I'm impressed by his form."
Later, at the team's set-up where the riders were warming down Tom Steels was present. He's the expert in the team regarding time trials, and he confirmed what Lampaert said.
"A rider normally does a pull of approximately twenty to thirty seconds. That means that the recovery time for a rider drops from 2:30 to 1:30 or 1:40 before he has to pull again; that's not a lot of time. Lactic acid kicks in and then you have to hope for a descent or an uphill section where you're among the best and can recover, but it will not drop.
"Michael [Morkov] had to let go of the group quite early, but he was unlucky that he had to pull a bit longer during his stints. He probably made a mistake not to skip his turn, which is sometimes a good thing to do. Max [Richeze] suddenly blew up his engine too," Steels said.
Regarding Jumbo-Visma's winning performance, Steels said he wasn't surprised. "We've seen at the Belgian TT championships how much time Wout van Aert can make up against Yves Lampaert, who was good. They've got a few guys who can make the difference on that distance. Wout van Aert is one of them but also Tony Martin, who was surfing on the flow of the team. It's also about experience in this discipline. It's about being able to deliver power without blowing up all the others. You need to train that toughness into the team. If you would create a team around Kasper [Asgreen] and Yves, then you would see how much faster one can ride on this course; probably half a minute faster."
Regarding the sprint qualities of Elia Viviani, Steels was confident that the Italian rider would bounce back in the next bunch sprint. "We knew that the finish on Saturday didn't suit Viviani completely. He needed a super day. He was there but was unable to accelerate even further. He proved that he's top; he's good. The first stage in the Tour is always difficult to find your way. He'll be good in his next sprint."