Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s CEO looks back on another successful year of the squad.
“At first, the 2021 season didn’t take off that well with several cancellations such as the Tour Down Under, Vuelta a San Juan and Tour Colombia. But from the moment we started racing, we won, beginning with the Classics. As a Belgian team the spring is very important, of course we are internationally orientated, but our riders still want to be in the Flemish races”, Patrick explains.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step deployed a strong squad in the northern Classics and took the victory in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with Davide Ballerini, the Classic Brugge-De Panne with Sam Bennett, as well as the E3 Harelbeke and the Ronde van Vlaanderen, both with Kasper Asgreen. “After that haul, you can say the Classics period had already been more than successful, but then Julian gave us another fantastic moment at the Flèche Wallonne.”
“Julian took three victories before the World Championships. Of course, I know that racing with the rainbow jersey on your shoulders isn’t easy, everyone watches Julian and nobody lets him ride. The opponents also didn’t become easier. Five years ago you didn’t have Van Aert, Van der Poel, Pogacar or Roglic. And if you look at the quality of wins you can say he did well: a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico, the Flèche Wallonne and the first stage of the Tour which brought us the yellow jersey. I rewatched that finale several times, as it was kind of unique. And then of course he put the cherry on the cake by retaining his world title.”
There were so many highlights, but it was also the year of the comebacks, who turned out to be very successful.
For Mark all the pieces fell into one puzzle.
“Normally he wasn’t going to do the Tour of Belgium, nor the Tour de France, but with the injury of Sam he had to step in. The way he wins and he keeps on winning brought a lot of emotions inside the team, but also from other people. When you hear during and after the Tour several people were crying in front of their television, you know what Mark and the team achieved touched many hearts. Also several production houses told me they thought it was a pity they weren’t there to film those unique moments.”
There were also the incredible stories of Fabio and Remco, who returned after injuries. “Everyone knows the miracle story of Fabio. We always kept believing he would come back as he’s so strong. The team always stood behind him and I think you can’t put into words what it meant to see him winning again. Fabio had face injuries, but with Remco you couldn’t see his injury. He also had a setback as he had to stop training at the beginning of the year, which was very difficult. Then the Giro came where we made the mistake to go with the story that was being created about him. It was a unique experience and we learned a lot from it. I think Remco is almost back to his old level, seeing how he came back to winning and showing what he did before – riding away from the bunch alone. With a good winter I believe he can make another step forward. Not to forget he turns only 22 in January.”
At the end of this incredible season, Patrick Lefevere’s team finished again at the top of the UCI classification. “I’m of course really proud. If you count everything together, we finished 151 times in the top three on an average of 260 race days, and then we don’t even count the world title of Julian and two kermesses, but which we don’t forget. Eighteen of our riders won a race, which is a lot. That has always been my tactic, it works and it’s one of the reasons why riders want to join the team. It’s the key to our success. But also the fact we have been calling ourselves The Wolfpack for a couple of years now is something that really lives inside the team, with both riders and staff.”
The long-term vision of winning a Grand Tour is still there. “We have several guys who can find their way in Grand Tours, and I’m thinking of Mattia, Fausto, Remco, Julian, and of course Ilan, who we welcome inside the team and who normally will be a guy for the three-week races in the future. Of course, a Grand Tour is unpredictable, 21 days where a lot of things can happen. You need a bit of luck as well. Only last year Almeida, who was a neo-pro back then, wore the Giro pink for 15 days and concluded fourth in the GC. I think it should also be possible for other guys. We’re one family that works together to be the best, every rider and staff member is important and I’m sure we’ll go full gas for it again next season.”
Photo credit: ©Wout Beel