Analysis: Cobbles bashers, grand tour winners, or both: Quick-Step faces transitional 2023

Quick-Step saw cobblestone disasters tempered by Evenepoel's exploits in 2022. Can it bring classics redemption and Giro glory in 2023?

Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

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The 2022 season went right in all the wrong places for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

A landmark grand tour win, victory in the hilliest of the monuments, a rider in the rainbow jersey. It’s a season haul to make any team salivate.

But where was the Quick-Step of old?

The grizzled cobble kings of Flanders saw their thrones usurped in a northern spring gone wrong. Yves Lampaert came calamitously close. Kasper Asgreen was largely AWOL. And Julian Alaphilippe suffered a “rainbow curse” to cry over.

Also read:

Remco Evenepoel may have boosted Quick-Step to new terrain this season, but it doesn’t eliminate the elephant in the team bus: What happened to Quick-Step in the cobblestone classics?

“I sometimes laugh about it, but it’s actually sad enough,” Lefevere said this April. “But what can you change about it? Getting nervous or panicking won’t help. We should not start acting like beaten dogs.”

A stricken spring in 2022 could symbolize the start of a new chapter for Quick-Step as it hits a crossroad in 2023. Classics champions, bunch sprint slayers, a new grand tour powerhouse, or all three?

2022: Confounded in the classics, crushing in the climbs

Lampaert somersaulted out of contention at Roubaix in a symbol of the team’s spring. (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

Marquee victories 2022: 

  • Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne: Victory (Jakobsen)
  • Volta ao Algarve: GC victory, 1x stage win (Evenepoel)
  • Volta a Catalunya: 2x stage wins (Vernon, Bagioli)
  • Itzulia Basque Country: Stage win (Alaphilippe)
  • Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Victory (Evenepoel)
  • Giro d’Italia: Stage win (Cavendish)
  • Tour de Suisse: Stage win (Evenepoel)
  • Tour de France: 2x stage win (Lampaert, Jakobsen)
  • Donostia San Sebastian: Victory (Evenepoel)
  • Vuelta a España: GC victory, 2x stage wins (Evenepoel)
  • Road world championships: Victory (Evenepoel)

With 47 victories overall (excluding Evenepoel’s world title), Quick-Step was just one short of matching table-topping Jumbo-Visma and UAE Emirates in 2022.

Fourteen of those – a full 30 percent – came from Evenepoel, and only one emerged from the muck of the northern spring.

Fabio Jakobsen’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne victory was the one consolation from a Flandrien classics that saw Lampaert sent somersaulting out of Roubaix contention in a symbol of a “wolfpack” sent whimpering.

No top-20 finishers in the Tour of Flanders was more than enough for fuming team brass.

“An open door: for our spring riders, Paris-Roubaix is the last chance,” Levere wrote before the cobbled monument.

“Everything that has not worked out in recent weeks, Asgreen, Sénéchal, Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Štybar can rectify on Sunday. Certainly for the latter two, there is a lot at stake, because they will be at the end of their contract after this season.”

Elsewhere, the team’s one-time talisman Alaphilippe suffered more crashes and sickness than the rest of the peloton put together, and it came down to Lefevere’s new favorite, Evenepoel, to salvage the squad with crushing Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory.

Even Fabio Jakobsen couldn’t put things completely right in an extra-tight Tour de France sprinter field that saw him score only once.

But once the Tour hit Paris, it was the “Remco show.” Evenepoel dragged Quick-Step to a new stratosphere with his rampage through San Sebastian, the Vuelta a España, and road worlds.

The season ended so sweet, but its bitter beginning won’t be forgotten.

2023: Cobblestone redemption, Giro glory?

New look, different goals for Quick Step? (Photo: Wout Beel)

Marquee transfers 2023:

  • In: Tim Merlier, Jan Hirt, Casper Pedersen
  • Out: Mark Cavendish, Zdenek Štybar, Mikkel Honoré, Iljo Keisse, Stijn Steels

The coming year will see Soudal Quick-Step trying to do it all, all at once.

Lefevere will be looking for cobblestone redemption in the face of an even stronger Jumbo-Visma after its off-season signing spree. Tadej Pogačar is returning to take on Tour of Flanders, and riders like Mathieu van der Poel and Matej Mohorič have monument titles to defend.

Quick-Step faces a reshaped classics landscape in 2023, and it has to do it without the departed Zdenek Štybar.

Lefevere will be counting on Alaphilippe to drag the “pack” back on track when the Frenchman returns to target Flanders as well as the Ardennes.

“Julian has a salary of a champion, but he needs to confirm that he is still a champion,” Lefevere recently told La Dernière Heure. “I want him to bounce back. He owes me a revenge.”

Lefevere’s expectations in the classics will convert to the waiting eye of the world when Evenepoel goes all-in for the Giro d’Italia.

The time trial-laden Italian route is already touted as Evenepoel’s to lose in a tricky transition season for Quick-Step’s climber crew.

Lefevere is planning to bust cash on climbers to support Evenepoel’s ambition, but a lack of expiring contracts this winter prevented a wave of immediate new signings. The experienced Czech GC contender Jan Hirt is Evenepoel’s only new uphill helper for a Giro that will likely see a stronger opposing startsheet than when he rampaged to Vuelta victory this summer.

And in the bunch sprints?

The newly signed fast finisher Tim Merlier will be stepping into the very big shoes of the departing Mark Cavendish. The Belgian will be relied on to rediscover his prolific 2021 form to help pad Soudal Quick-Step’s 2023 palmarès and make it the WorldTour’s winningest team once again.

Remco reign begins in 2024?

Evenepoel is at the heart of Lefevere’s long-term plans. (Photo:AFP via Getty Images)

The 2024 season will see the true restart of Soudal Quick Step.

Evenepoel’s so-called stepping-stone Giro will put the Belgian on track for a Tour de France debut and a possible showdown with Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard.

Should Lefevere’s plans come good, Quick-Step could see a swathe more grand tour support to make a maillot jaune a closer reality in 2024 or later through Evenepoel’s far-spanning contract.

And what of Quick-Step and its Flandrien throne?

Jumbo-Visma proved this year it’s possible to win on all terrain, all year long.

Alaphilippe, Asgreen, Lampaert et al will have to keep their ends of the bargain in 2023 and beyond or Lefevere might lose his classics luster as he looks to Evenepoel and the long-view.

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