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Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl is in an unfamiliar position coming into the big Belgian monument without being on the front line.
“We are not used to racing defensively,” Lefevere said Thursday in a media call. “We have to accept this. We have 11 riders who are sick. Even me, I am home sick. We are hoping we can recover Sunday, and maybe if we are not 100 percent, we will fight for the victory.”
Illnesses, crashes and other setbacks have seen the Belgian classics powerhouse reacting to others during the past few weeks rather than being at the front, swarming the moves, and putting riders on the attack.
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So far, Quick-Step has been a shadow of its usual self. Apart from victory at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, won in a bunch gallop by Fabio Jakobsen, the team is clearly playing catch-up.
“I always say that we will make the full report after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and maybe it’s lucky for us, Paris-Roubaix comes one week later this year,” Lefevere said. “I hope we have shown from the past that sometimes we didn’t have big results early, and went 1-2-3 at Paris-Roubaix. So you never know.”
The team is counting on defending champion Kasper Asgreen and rising French prospect Florian Sénéchal on Sunday. With defending world champion Julian Alaphilippe betting everything on the Ardennes this year, it’s up to the Dane to step up again.
“It would be amazing to win Flanders again, but it will be very difficult. It gives me a lot of motivation to be the defending champion,” Asgreen said. “This year I am going into the race a bit more as the sole leader. Last year, with Alaphilippe as the world champion, the leadership was more shared. It means I am going in a bit differently, but the legs will decide who will be in the final.
“The goal is to try to win again,” Asgreen said. “The team was generally stronger last year without the sickness we’ve had this year. We will make the best of it. It makes it more difficult to make a move. It’s not so easy to sneak away anymore.”
Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel both will make a difference
Asgreen said it will be a “big difference” if van Aert does not start, but said his absence could play into his favor.
“It will change the race a lot if it turns out that Wout is not at the start,” Asgreen said. “He is the biggest favorite and he was the leader of the strongest team right now. That he is gone for sure changes their tactics. They’re not going to have van Aert who they know is the strongest rider that they can rely on to make a difference in the end. We will see a very aggressive Jumbo-Visma because they have a lot of strength on the team.”
The team agreed that the rising form of Mathieu van der Poel also could play into their hands.
“I hope that the race starts early,” Asgreen said of van der Poel. “It was impressive to see that his condition is well on the way. It’s good to have him back in that condition because his way of racing is going to be important for me as well. He likes to be aggressive and so do I. Last year we had really good cooperation in the end, and I think it’s good that he’s back.”
Here it is!
— Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (@qst_alphavinyl) March 31, 2022
Yves Lampaert, one of the many riders struggling with health issues, admitted he can only help.
“Flanders comes too early for me to be in the first group, so I will help Kasper and Florian to be in the front group,” Lampaert said. “We have to make sure we are not in defense mode and not let breakaways go away without us.”
For Lefevere, the classics are the season peak for the team and his sponsors, and he promised that the “Wolfpack” will still bring some snarl Sunday.
“We never focus on the wheel of somebody else. You have to be intelligent and know when to move. We are not used to racing to defend, we are used to racing an aggressive race. The race is very long and there are a lot of tricky points. I hope the guys can stay on the bike and we can be there,” Lefevere said.
“You can always learn of the difficult moments, so if later you can win, it makes a lot of difference for us,” he said. “I always say panic is bad advice. I don’t want to see them raced like this. We have to be smarter but we are not used to racing like in this manner of waiting for others.”