Will Deceuninck-Quick-Step dominate the cobbled classics again this year?

Patrick Lefevere's self-styled 'Wolfpack' has long prowled on the cobblestones, but will they be the hunted ones this spring? We take both sides of the question.

Photo: Getty Images

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It’s a rite of spring just as much as the spring classics themselves. Patrick Lefevere and his Belgian brawlers at Deceuninck-Quick-Step come out swinging to dominate cycling’s most grueling races across Belgium and France.

The Belgian manager’s track record is impressive on the stones. At Paris-Roubaix alone, Lefevere’s teams since 1995 have won 13 of the last 25 editions of the “Hell of the North.”

Lefevere has consistently delivered a full-court offense that brings several cards to play in every scenario. Even in Tom Boonen’s heyday, Quick-Step would still see some of its lesser riders come away with big wins.

In fact, even more so since Boonen’s retirement, the team has further embraced the one-for-all, all-for-one mentality, and inevitably comes through across the northern classics.

This peloton is changing, the 2021 classics see the arrival of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in full splendor.

How much will their collective presence alter the DQS playbook? And will Lefevere and his classics wrecking crew still be able to call the shots like they always have? We take both sides of the question:

Jim: “The Wolfpack” will come out snarling

Deceuninck-Quick-Step always has different cards to play. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Sure, so of the major classics so far this year, Deceuninck-Quick-Step has only come up trumps in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

But now we’re heading away from Italy and back into Flanders, “The Wolfpack” will be on home territory and will have something to prove after recently seeing van der Poel and Trek-Segafredo unlocking its years of mastery over the classics.

While Lefevere and Co. doesn’t have a one-man wrecking machine such as “MvdP” or van Aert, Quick-Step has a veritable mass of burly brawlers ready to take them on. With Yves Lampaert, Zdenek Štybar, Kasper Asgreen, Remi Cavagna and Davide Ballerini ready to outflank the typically isolated van der Poel and van Aert, Quick-Step’s chances are hugely improved.

Also read: Patrick Lefevere vows not to change tactics 

The northern classics, especially the cobbled races, are undoubtedly a test of strength, and van der Poel and van Aert have the edge. But they’re also a test of luck. Puncture in one of the final sectors of Paris-Roubaix with no staffer around to hand you a wheel? Race over.

Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s depth of B-list contenders overcomes that uncertainty. And with Julian Alaphilippe as a rider who can on his day barge into the “Mathieu van der Wout” show in a man-on-man battle, Quick-Step will be dominant again.

Alaphilippe, Lampaert and crew aren’t going to blanket the season like Quick-Step of old, but the team will be top dog this year.

Andrew: All howl, no bite

Without Julian Alaphilippe across all the races, the team could be defanged on key dates. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

This spring, the boys in blue won’t be as quick in their step.

The brawny Belgians certainly have been hot out of the gate so far in 2021, but in the major races when it really counts, Patrick Lefevere will be missing that one singular rider who can deliver the knock-out blow.

Don’t get me wrong — Julian Alaphilippe has proven he’s on par with the giants of the classics with Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, but “Alapanache” will only be racing Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Ronde on the cobbles.

Even though the Wolfpack will try to outflank and isolate their rivals, Zdenek Štybar and Yves Lampaert don’t have the horsepower to go with the big moves at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Also read: Teamwork delivers Davide Ballerini victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 

In a typical classics campaign, it’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step that is setting the tempo. I think the team will be on its back foot and be caught off-balance as it tries to react to the inevitable surges from van Aert and van der Poel. Trek-Segafredo and Ag2r-Citroën also bring clout, and let’s not forget Peter Sagan.

Simply put, the team’s tried-and-true classics template won’t fit in this new paradigm.

The one rider who could prove me wrong is Kasper Asgreen. Already a winner at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and second at the 2019 Ronde, the Danish diesel seems poised to step up. Let’s see if he can hitch a ride on the “VanderWout Express.”

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