Patrick Lefevere not changing tactics in face of rising challenge from Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel

Deceuninck-Quick-Step vows to 'isolate' the budding classics stars in bid to take them down.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Patrick Lefevere has been winning monuments and races long before Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel were even born.

And despite the rise of cycling’s budding superstars on the cobbles, the manager of classics powerhouse Deceuninck-Quick-Step vows to keep its aggressive, full-tilt tactics in play.

Lefevere sees no reason to change what’s been working very well on the cobblestones of northern France and Belgium for nearly two decades.

“I don’t like comparing between generations. Cancellara was Cancellara, and Boonen was Boonen. Now we have this generation,” Lefevere said Monday in a media call. “Do we have Wout van Aert on the team? No. Van der Poel? No.

“We have Alaphilippe, and around him, there are quite a few very strong riders,” he said. “And with the collective we saw Saturday, we still won.”

Lefevere has long built a winning tactic every spring by flooding the zone. Just call it the Lefevere Press.

Instead of building the team around one singular rider, the Belgian outfit starts with a fleet of potential winners and plays different tactical cards on any given race. Even when Tom Boonen was at his best, Lefevere still deployed the multi-card tactic and delivered victories by riders such as Stijn Devolder at Tour of Flanders, or with Niki Terpstra at Paris-Roubaix.

Despite the rising profile of van der Poel and van Aert, considered by many to be the next major contenders across the northern monuments, Lefevere said the team will continue its tried-and-true tactical playbook to dominate the spring classics in 2021 with trademark panache.

“If we can keep the strength of the team and this spirit of the team — the ‘Wolfpack’ as we call it — then you know what wolves do with their victims?” Lefevere asked. “They [isolate] them, and that’s what we’re going to do in the next few months.”

Those comments follow a dramatic weekend of racing in Belgium, when Deceuninck-Quick-Step came away with victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with Davide Ballerini‘s winning kick in a rare bunch sprint in the Belgian calendar opener. That gave Lefevere his second victory in three years — Zdeněk Štybar won in 2019 — at the Belgian classic that long eluded the team during the past decade or so.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I like winning, but there is also the way of winning. The way we were riding Saturday was very aggressive,” Lefevere said. “We were super-happy to win with [Davide] Ballerini.”

Deceuninck-Quick-Step also won at Sunday’s Drome Classic with Andrea Bagioli, while managing to punch into the t0p-10 with ninth with Bert Van Lerberghe at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Lefevere was beaming with confidence from the hot opening weekend.

“Sunday was a little different,” Lefevere said. “We saw a very aggressive Mathieu van der Poel, who almost managed to win. I think if Kasper Asgreen doesn’t close the gap at 3km to go, maybe van der Poel will win the race. We are not a team [to stop] the others to win. We are here to win.”

Lefevere was especially pleased with world champion Julian Alaphilippe, who uncorked a long-distance attack at Omloop and later helped set up Ballerini for the sprint. Alaphilippe, who will return to race at the Tour of Flanders in April, heads to Italy, where he will race Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo in succession.

Up next is the midweek semi-classic Le Samyn, where 2019 winner Florian Sénéchel and Mark Cavendish will lead. Sénéchel, who was second at his season debut at the Clásica de Almería and seventh at Omloop, said he completely buys into the Lefevere style of racing.

“This is a team that races to win as a team,” Sénéchal said. “We all know if we help our teammates win at one race, our chance will come on another day. The most important thing is to be in top fitness and work as a team to produce victories. Everyone knows at this team you will get your chances. We believe the collective can be stronger than one person.”

That’s just the kind of mentality Lefevere’s self-styled “Wolfpack” might need to take on the inevitable rise of van der Poel and van Aert.

The next major battle: Saturday’s Strade Bianche.

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