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Seven Quick-Step riders and team boss Patrick Lefevere are sitting in a transparent glass box in an undisclosed location somewhere in Belgium.
No, this is not cycling’s equivalent of Squid Game about to unfurl, but an elaborate nod to a sponsor. Both at Flanders and now Roubaix, the team has conducted thorough full-scale broadcast operations for their pre-race press conferences. For De Ronde, the Belgian squad sat squished onto benches atop AlphaVinyl flooring. This time they are enclosed entirely by Renson windows. The Belgian team may not currently be crossing the line first as many times as they would like, but they are surely winning the battle to convince the public to renovate their homes entirely with products emblazoned on their jerseys.
“There are no more excuses,” Patrick Lefevere said, looking at his riders sat only a couple of feet away. The team is finally fully fit and healthy after a spring Classics campaign hampered by illness.
“Maybe for us it was a good thing that the race is a week later [Roubaix was postponed a week due to the French elections]. It gave us time to recover. But still, we have 18 victories and 13 second places [in 2022] – a lot of other teams would want to be in our place.”
The thing is, Quick-Step is not like other teams. They are used to winning. Very used to winning. Of the big Belgian one-day ding-dongs so far these past few weeks, ninth for Florian Sénéchal at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Opening Weekend is as good as it’s got so far.
There is no panic, however. Lefevere says hysteria won’t help his team turn around their fortunes, and he continues to re-iterate that he will only digest how this year’s spring campaign has gone after the final result at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It sounds like a lot will hinge on world champion Julian Alaphilippe’s efforts to finally win La Doyenne for this campaign to be considered its usual roaring success, but Lefevere hasn’t lost faith just yet.
“I still believe in the guys that are sitting here, it cannot be that everything has gone in the last six months or year,” Lefevere said. “They have to take it into their own hands. If they are performing like they’re paid for it, there’s no problem. Why should I lose my confidence in three months?”
Yves Lampaert, amongst the most Belgians of Belgians, also refuses to panic, which is key for a race like Roubaix. They won’t change tact, sticking with riding offensively rather than defensively, trying to use their strength in depth once more to deal with the threats posed by Mathieu van der Poel, Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert and a transformed Ineos squad.
“It’s quite simple. You should always make sure that the competition is chasing us and not the other way around,” Lefevere continued. “We are not used to racing on the defensive, as Yves says. But if we can use all our capacities at 100 per cent, then I’m not afraid of it. We should not panic and not be nervous. Paris-Roubaix is a very long race. Even if you crash once at a bad time. This race is never over, only at the Velodrome of Roubaix.”
Over the half-hour of conversation, Patrick Lefevere has willingly taken on the majority of questions directed towards his riders, trying to soak up the pressureon their behalf. Although in Kasper Asgreen Lefevere has a Flanders winner who deserves to have some expectation placed upon his shoulders, and has some pointers for his Dane heading into this Sunday’s race.
“I think it’s no big secret that Kasper is riding at a very high level. In my eyes, he was one of the strongest riders in the Amstel Gold Race. He was just too generous and too good for the others. Kasper could have benefited a little more from the work of the others,” Asgreen laughs nervously as he receives feedback from his boss in public.
“Indeed, our strength in recent years has been to get three or four pawns in the final so that we could play the game. I hope we can do that again on Sunday. I don’t care who the winner is as long as he wears a blue jersey.”