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The Belgian opening weekend was quite disastrous for the Soudal Quick-Step team. Both on Saturday and Sunday they missed the cut when the impressive Jumbo-Visma team launched their offensive. In the chase they failed to bring back the strong breakaway groups and were forced to sprint for a top-10 result. Davide Ballerini finished sixth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Fabio Jakobsen was ninth in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. That’s not the way Belgian team manager Patrick Lefevere likes to start the spring classics season.
“Jumbo is now the team we were a few years ago, dominating and dictating the race, Lefevere said. “Nowadays we are the ones being dictated. Jumbo is a good team. If you look at these riders, every single one of them is capable of winning a race. It’s not the first day Tiesj Benoot is riding well.”
In Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne the Jumbo-Visma team accelerated when approaching the Walloon hill zone. Yves Lampaert was caught behind a crash that took out Jasper Philipsen. He spent a lot of energy trying to catch back on. Davide Ballerini was present near the front of the peloton when a Jumbo-Visma trio accelerated on the steep Bourliquet climb but he was unable to go with the yellow flow.
“We’re too light,” Lefevere said. “Fabio had to focus on the sprint but Ballerini was on their wheels where they rode away and just dropped through the field. Florian Sénéchal wasn’t up there either. These are the men who have to perform at the classics. Lampy was caught behind a crash but that crash didn’t happen near the front, to be very clear. That’s the difference. When you’re riding at the front then you’re never caught behind a crash. One year we rode away with nearly everybody from the team but that was because everybody crashed behind us.”
When searching for reasons Lefevere pointed to the yellow riders from the Jumbo-Visma team and what it does with the confidence amongst his boys. “They’re a bit blown away by all that yellow. There’s guys in our team who can ride like Tiesj and Nathan but it’s not happening. If Nathan Van Hooydonck can make the cut then there’s three to four riders from our team who should be able to make the cut too. They’re just not there. They’re the same riders from two years ago. Ballerini won Het Nieuwsblad so if he races like he did back then he should’ve been up front today and that wasn’t the case.”
Lefevere felt that the tactical mindset of his riders wasn’t how it should be, feeling they should take the initiative more often. “I wasn’t at the team meeting this morning but it seems to me that we’re riding out of a defensive role, we don’t take the race in our own hands. We’re not used to racing like that. The boys are spread out in the peloton and then there’s a crash. We shouldn’t be pointing at anything else. You’ve got to make the cut. Florian then rides nearly on his own. Cofidis had three guys, Trek had three guys. I wonder why they’re racing here, just to be in the group maybe. Lotto-Dstny also had two or three guys, I think. They rode early on but then Arnaud told Fabio that he wasn’t feeling 100 percent but he won the sprint, or runner-up, ok.”
Obviously, there’s a few strong guys joining the spring classics team during the more important races next month, including former world champion Julian Alaphilippe and former Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Kasper Asgreen. Alaphilippe won the Faune Ardèche Classic on Saturday, beating David Gaudu in a two-man sprint. On Sunday he finished sixteenth in the Faune Drôme Classic at nearly five minutes from winner Anthony Perez. “Alaphilippe wins on Saturday but on Sunday he gets dropped, I learned. It was a really tough course but he should be able to deal with that. A good Asgreen should be capable too,” Lefevere sighed. The strong Dane got ill and didn’t take the start in the races this weekend.
When asked for solutions, Lefevere joked about going to the mass. “Maybe we should get drunk tonight. No, seriously, we don’t have to panic right now. We’re barely racing in Kuurne and we won our twelfth race with Remco. We said we changed the emphasis in the team away from the classics and that’s becoming clear,” Lefevere said. He concluded by sending out a warning to a few riders. “The ones that are underperforming these days will have to prove themselves because there’s a few of them who’re at the end of their contract and then they’ll meet me at the other end of the table.”