The holiday is over and it is time for the professional riders to start their serious training for the 2017 season. After the team building activities at the first team meetings in November, the month of December is traditionally the time for the first real training camps where the first drafts of the season schedules are made and just a few weeks later, the cycling season is in full swing at the Tour Down Under. During the next few weeks, CyclingQuotes prepares you for the coming season in a series of analyses where we take a detailed look at each of the 18 WorldTour teams and what to expect during the next 12 months.
Below we take a look at Quick-Step Floors.
Julian Alaphilippe, Tom Boonen, Gianluca Brambilla, Laurens De Plus, David De La Cruz, Fernando Gaviria, Bob Jungels, Iljo Keisse, Marcel Kittel, Yves Lampaert, Daniel Martin, Davide Martinelli, Maximilano Richeze, Fabio Sabatini, Pieter Serry, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, Petr Vakoc, Julien Vermote
Jack Bauer (Etixx-QuickStep), Eros Capecchi (Astana), Remi Cavagna (Klein Constantia), Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen), Dries Devenyns (IAM), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Enric Mas (Klein Constantia), Maximilan Schachmann (Klein Constantia)
Riders leaving the team
Maxime Bouet (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Rodrigo Contreras (Coldeportes – Claro), Nikolas Maes (Lotto Soudal), Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), Gianni Meersman (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Martin Velits (?), Carlos Verona (Orica-BikeExchange), Lukasz Wisniowski (Sky)
Analysis of the transfer season
It’s impressive how Patrick Lefevere always comes out of the transfer season as one of the winners. Very often he seems to have lost some of his most prolific riders and very often it seems difficult for the team to keep their impressive winning rate in the next season. However, new riders always step up and almost every year the team ends the season with the most victories. Even more impressively, the wins are taken by a lot of different riders and the team have a remarkable ability to even turn domestiques into occasional winners.
For the 2017 season, the team haven’t had as significant changes as they have had in other years and with one exception, the most successful riders will all stay in the team. They have been pretty active on the market and they have added no less than 8 new riders while 10 riders will be departing. Nonetheless, it will be difficult to bet against the team to end the season with the most number of victories.
The new signings are mostly pretty low-key and as the team has lost one of cycling’s big stars, it is hard to regard the overall balance as positive. Tony Martin may have had two terrible years, seemingly dropping to out of the time trial elite, but his return to his former TT position seems to have turned everything around. At the Worlds in Doha, he was suddenly his former self and rode to a dominant victory in the individual time trial. For the team, it was even more important that he was instrumental at bringing home a third TTT title. Martin’s absence will be dearly felt. He didn’t win much in 2016 but he was a key player in the classics and as part of the lead-out train. At the same time, he was the key element in the successful TTT squad and it is hard to see how Lefevere’s team will be able to retain their position at the TTT top without the quadruple world champion on the roster.
Martin is very difficult to replace and Lefevere has apparently given up without a fight. He has not even tried to sign a new time triallist and instead, he has had his eyes focused on the classics which are the bread and butter of the Belgian team. The main signing is Philippe Gilbert and we are very curious to see what the former world champion can do in his new surroundings. His winning rate declined significantly during his time at BMC and in the final year it became apparent that he is no longer competitive at the highest level in the harder one-day races.
However, Lefevere has always been great at turning former champions into winners again and it may not be bad idea for Gilbert to join a team with several leaders and potential winners. At BMC, he was often the sole leader and he no longer seems to be able to finish it off from that kind of position. Instead, he could benefit from a position alongside several other top riders where team tactics can come into play. At the same time, his move has been prompted by his desire to focus on races like Milan-Sanremo and the Flemish classics as he still hopes to win all the monuments during his career. He is not a natural climber and so it may not be a bad idea to turn his attention away from the harder races and focus on the cobbles where experience has often paid off.
Dries Devenyns and Jack Bauer are the other key signing for the classics. When he was with the team earlier in his career, Devenyns was a rider for the Ardennes classics but now he has found out that he is much more suited to the Flemish races. This year he was better than ever and won both the Tour de Wallonie and the Belgium Tour overall. He can still do well in the hiller races too and as he has proved that he can handle the long distances, he is a very valuable reinforcement.
Bauer has had less good results in the classics but in 2015 he proved that he has the potential to be a contender in the biggest races on the cobbles. Injury derailed his spring in 2016 but the autumn showed that he is ready to build on his progress in the best place to be for every classics rider.
Tim Declercq has been signed as a decent domestique for the classics where he can take over the role of Nikolas Maes, Lukasz Wisniowski and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck. The latter never became the new Boonen as many had expected and he didn’t show anything in his final year. Maes was very reliable and a solid part of the lead-out train but it is not a major loss. Wisniowski played a similar role and is clearly a talent but he will never become a big winner. It is more concerning that the always strong Stijn Vandenbergh has left the team. The lanky Belgian was almost a guarantee for a solid showing in the classics even though he never got the big win for the team that he deserved. However, the signings of the likes of Devenyns and Bauer can fill the gap
The team are slowly increasing the focus on the GCs at grand tours with Bob Jungels and Dan Martin and so it is a bit of a surprise that they haven’t done much to increase their climbing strength. Only Eros Capecchi has been added and that’s a bit of a gamble. The fragile Italian has had terrible years at Astana and Movistar and nothing really suggests that it is going to change. On the other hand, the place to be if you want to be reinvigorated, is probably Etixx-QuickStep.
Capecchi will replace Maxime Bouet and Carlos Verona. The latter has the potential to become a solid domestique and showed clear signs of improvement in March. His absence could be felt in the long term. Bouet never reached the level he had at Ag2r. Climbing talent Rodrigo Contreras will also leave but he seemed to have a hard time coping with European cycling.
When it comes to the winning tally, the biggest loss is Gianni Meersman. He may have had some bad years but just as it became clear that he would leave the team, he found his best legs again. His two stage wins in the Vuelta reminded everybody of his ability to finish it off in harder stage races and so his absence will be felt.
Finally, the team have continued their trend of picking a few neo-pros from their development team Klein Constantia. Remi Cavagna can both climb and time trial and seems to have the skills to become a good GC rider for shorter stage races. Maximilan Schachmann is mostly known for his TT skills, having finished runner-up at the U23 Worlds twice in a row, but he has also showed solid climbing skills. Enric Mas is a powerful climber with good TT skills. Overall the three talents will all boost the team for stage races in the future but 2017 will probably a learning experience.
What to expect in the classics?
Quick-Step Floors is a classics team and their season will never be a real success if they haven’t shown something in the biggest one-day races. The cobbled classics are their traditional domain and where they have enjoyed the most success, often going into the races with the broadest teams and a big favourite. However, the best riders are now riding in other teams and nowadays they have a much harder time in their preferred races where they have to use their strength in numbers to beat the stronger guys. At the same time, they have started to shine in the Ardennes and this year it seems that their biggest chance for a big win will come in a hilly one-day race even though the team should be competitive and in podium contention everywhere.
The team haven’t won Milan-Sanremo for several years and in 2017 they have their best shot for a long time. Last year Fernando Gaviria made his debut in the race and he could have won the race in his first attempt if he hadn’t crashed on the finishing straight. That result must have turned the race into a big goal both for himself and the team and they should back him fully. Tom Boonen will also be present in his final participation and he will be a plan B as he is still pretty fast at the end of a long, hard race. Before that race, the team may already have tasted victory on Italian soil as Zdenek Stybar and Gianluca Brambilla will try to make up for the disappointment at last year’s Strade Bianche. Julian Alaphilippe may also do that race which could suit him really well.
On the cobbles, the team will again have to use their collective strength to beat the strongest riders. With Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra and Tom Boonen, they have three riders who can potentially win one of the cobbled monuments. Especially, Stybar stands out for both the Flemish races and Paris-Roubaix but after several years of steady improvement, the Czech had a pretty bad 2016 season. Terpstra also failed to reach his former heights. He may be a former Roubaix winner and Flanders runner-up but based on potential, Stybar is the most likely rider to win a big race.
The fairytale outcome would be a big win for Boonen before he bows out on the velodrome in Roubaix but that is unlikely to happen. The Belgian has not been among the best for the last few years. Nonetheless, you can never count out his vast experience which he proved in 2016 where he nearly won both Paris-Roubaix and the Worlds. Matteo Trentin is another strong asset for a sprint finish and the Italian is constantly getting stronger and closer to a big win in a cobbled classic.
It still remains to be seen what schedule Philippe Gilbert will have but the main reason for his decision to change team was his desire to do the cobbled races. He is likely to skip Roubaix in 2017 but he could do the full schedule of the harder Flemish races. He has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and been on the podium in the Tour of Flanders during his heydays but he hasn’t raced much on the cobbles recently. He is unlikely to win any of the races on pure power but he will be an extra weapon in the very strong team and this could allow him to take a major result. Dries Devenyns and Jack Bauer will also be key players but even though both have a huge potential, they will probably have to sacrifice themselves for their leaders.
We are very curious to see what Gaviria can do on the cobbles. The Colombian proved his ability in his first races in Belgium as he was in contention at both Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem. The 2016 season clearly showed that he still lacks endurance in the long races and Tour of Flanders, E3 Harelbeke and Paris-Roubaix are probably too hard for him. However, he can again target the same races that he did in 2016 and with his eyes now fully on the road, there is no reason that he can’t win a first race on the cobbles. Finally, the team will end the first part of their classics season by going for another win with Marcel Kittel at Scheldeprijs.
When we get to the Ardennes, the team will probably again be the strongest of all. In any case, no one will have the same number of potential winners as Dan Martin, Julian Alaphilippe, Gilbert, Petr Vakoc and Gianluca Brambilla will combine forces. The Amstel Gold Race is the easiest of the races and the team is likely to back Gilbert for that race. After all, the Belgian has been the dominant figure in recent years and he knows how to attack the Cauberg like no other. He may not have won the race in the last two years but you can never count him out. Julian Alaphilippe can also win the Dutch classic as he continues his improvement, and both he and Gilbert can also mix it up in a sprint. The race also suits Petr Vakoc who continues to impress but the young Czech is likely to be a domestique in this star-studded team after having taken his own chance at Brabantse Pijl where he is the defending champion.
At Fleche Wallonne, the team will work for Julian Alaphillippe and Dan Martin. The Frenchman has been second twice in a row and the Irishman was third in last year’s edition. Both are perfectly suited to the sprit up the Mur and they can play different cards. In 2016, they tried to get the better of the invincible Valverde by using Martin to go from afar and having Alaphilippe waiting for the sprint. This year they failed to beat the Spaniard but as Alaphilippe continues his improvement and Valverde gets older, it is only a matter of time before the Frenchman wins the race.
Alaphilippe and Martin will be joined by Gilbert for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The trio have all been in the top 3 and they will form a formidable bid for victory. However, we doubt that Gilbert still has a win in such a hard classic in his legs and it will probably be left to the two younger riders to go for a result. Martin seems to have lost a bit of his kick after focusing more on his climbing so their best shot will probably be Alaphilippe. The Frenchman suffered from mononucleosis during the winter and spring and so he was not in top form in 2016. He still had a good classics campaign so it is simply frightening how good he can be if he has a perfect build-up. When he dropped Chris Froome on the climbs at the Olympics, it became evident that the sky is the limit for this young Frenchman and we won’t be surprised if he comes away with the win in the hardest spring monument. Gianluca Brambilla is also suited to this race and as he will skip the Giro, the Ardennes will be a bigger goal for him in 2017.
In the autumn, Kittel will probably go for victory in his home race in Hamburg and he may also have a shot in Plouay together with Trentin and Gaviria. For the Canadian classics, the team have numerous cards as Gaviria, Vakoc, Alaphilippe, Gilbert and Martin can all win those race depending on how hard they will be. Finally, Alaphilippe, Martin and Brambilla should team up for Il Lombardia which Martin has won in the past and which is another race that is suited to Alaphilippe if the Frenchman is still fresh at that late point of the season.
What to expect in the grand tours?
Quick-Step have always won numerous stages in the grand tours but they have never had the same kind of focus on the GC. However, times are changing and even though stage wins are still the priority, they had a rider in the top 10 in all three grand tours in 2016 (Bob Jungels in the Giro, Dan Martin in the Tour and David De La Cruz in the Vuelta). This year they will again go into the races with multiple goals and they are likely to have clear GC aspirations in all three-week races.
Bob Jungels had a remarkable Giro in 2016 and he has done nothing to hide that he aims to improve on his sixth place in 2017. In the long term, the less steep climbs in France probably suit him better but as there will barely be any time trialling in the Tour, it is much better to focus on the Italian grand tour in 2017. Jungels will never be a pure climber and he is likely to lose ground in the early summit finishes. However, the 2015 Tour and 2016 Giro proved that he has a remarkable ability to recover and he seems to have a great engine for the third week. This should come in handy in a race that is loaded with hard climbs in the final week and so it is definitely possible for Jungels to be in the top 10 again. However, his climbing skills are still too limited to realistically aim for the podium.
A few weeks ago, we expected the team to go for the first maglia rosa with Marcel Kittel. However, they have now announced that Fernando Gaviria will mak his grand tour debut in Italy. That makes it very unlikely that Kittel will return to Italy and instead it will be up to the Colombian to deliver the goods. Gaviria has proved that he can beat everyone in a sprint and the hard stages in Italy should suit him well. He will probably be supported by a solid train that includes Matteo Trentin, and it will be a surprise if he doesn't win a stage in his first three-week race.
With the race celebrating its 100th edition, Trentin must be keen to ride their home race but surprisingly Gianluca Brambilla wil skip it. Both won stages in 2016 but it will be up to Trentin to repeat the feat in 2017. The Italian will have fewer opportunities in a team that also includes Gaviria but he has proved that he can win stages from breakaways.
In the Tour de France, Kittel will aim to return to the top of the sprinting hierarchy. There is little doubt that the German is still the fastest but in the chaos of modern-day sprinting, he is at a disadvantage compared to Mark Cavendish. The key part of the lead-out train hasn’t changed but the loss of Tony Martin will be felt. It remains to be seen whether they can get strong enough to give Kittel an easier way to the line and so benefit maximally from his speed.
For the GC, Dan Martin will again be the leader. The Irishman has moved to Andorra and is reaping the benefits from more training on longer climbs. He showed his potential in 2016 and he will be keen to do better than ninth. The lack of time trialling is great for him but he is probably not consistent enough and enough of a pure climber to go for the podium.
We are very curious to see how Julian Alaphilippe will approach the race. He has never been regarded as a real climber but in 2016 he showed that he can compete with the best in the high mountains. He will probably never win a grand tour but he may have top 10 finishes in his legs. He probably still lacks the consistency to go for GC but he is unlikely to throw away time deliberately. In any case, stage wins in multiple terrains are within his reach. Gianluca Brambilla will also make his debut in the race and he will be an important asset, both as a domestique in the mountains and as a stage hunter.
We had expected that Fernando Gaviria would make his grand tour debut in the Vuelta a Espana but he is unlikely to do two grand tours. Hence, the team may head to Spain without a real sprinter as the race doesn't really suit Kittel. Maybe Maximilano Richeze will be given a rar chance to sprint for himself after his solid performance at the 2016 Tour de Suisse.The team is also likely to have a GC leader. Martin has done two grand tours in the past and could return to the one that suits him the best in 2017. After his top 10 in 2016, David De La Cruz also deserves to see if he can repeat that performance. Brambilla is also likely to be present but he will probably target stage wins in an attempt to repeat what he did this year.
What to expect elsewhere?
The classics and the grand tours will be the priority but Quick-Step always win more races than any other team and so they will be in contention everywhere. We wouldn’t be surprised if they send Petr Vakoc to the Tour Down Under. The Czech deserves a chance to lead the team in a WorldTour race and the Australian event suits him down to the ground. He has the skills to get the season off to a flying start.
In the later WorldTour stage races, the team should be competitive too. Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra had hoped to return to the Tour of Qatar and no one will be more disappointed with the cancellation than the Belgian super team.
On paper, Bob Jungels can do well in many of the stage races in the spring but with his eyes on the Giro, he may not be at his best. Nonetheless, he can be competitive if the courses are not too hard. Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe can also go for results in those races but due to the importance of the TTs in most of the WorldTour stage races, it will be hard for them to win. The Volta a Catalunya will be their best chance and this year it may be even better for them due to the inclusion of a team time trial. Alaphilippe will also be keen to defend his title in California but it will be hard for him as the field is likely to be stronger in the first year as a WorldTour event. With his good performance in the Vuelta, David De La Cruz should also get more space as a GC rider but like his two teammates, the TT swill make things complicated.
With two of the fastest sprinters, the team should win lots of races throughout the entire year. Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria have to share the stage races between them, with the Colombian probably focusing on some of the harder races. In 2016 Maximilano Richeze also proved that he is still a winner and he should get his chances too. During the spring season, Kittel and Gaviria will be riding in northern Europe and this could open the door for the Argentinean to be the lead sprinter in races like Catalunya and Pais Vasco.
As a Belgian team, Quick-Step will also do several smaller races in the home country and this is often the chance for riders further down in the hierarchy to take a win. It could be a possibility for strong riders like Dries Devenyns and Jack Bauer who are likely to be domestiques in the bigger races. Niki Terpstra has also been successful in those races in the past.
Terpstra won the Eneco Tour in 2016 and he will be keen to defend his title. However, with better time triallists in the race and a potential hard stage in the Ardennes, he needs a bit of luck to win again. Devenyns, Stybar and Vakoc are also suited to that race but they will all lose a bit too much time in the time trial. Devenyns should also get a rare chance to lead the team at the Belgium Tour where he will be the defending champion but again much will depend on the length of the time trial in that race.
Who’s ready to surprise?
Quick-Step have signed two of the most exciting talents in recent years and as they have already won a lot at a very high level, it is hard to describe them as surprises. However, we expect Fernando Gaviria and Julian Alaphilippe to win on the biggest scene in 2017 and the sky is the limit for what they can achieve next year.
As said above, we regard Julian Alaphilippe as the biggest favourite to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The Frenchman’s progress is massive and he has proved that he can handle the very long distances even at this age. His build-up to the Ardennes was destroyed by illness in 2016 but if he can get the perfect preparation, he will be very hard to beat. After all, he dropped Chris Froome on the climbs at the Olympics – a race he could have won if he had been attentive when the race split on a descent – and with his fast finish, he can beat almost all the contenders on the line. As everything suggests that he will be even stronger in 2017, he could very well take over Valverde’s position as the leading rider for the Ardennes classics.
It may take some time for Fernando Gaviria to beat the pure sprinters in the real bunch sprints but the Colombian is already close. At the same time, he is a lot more versatile than the likes of Kittel, Greipel and Cavendish and the big problem will be to find out what to focus on. We won’t be surprised if he wins Milan-Sanremo and a WorldTour race on the cobbles and he is destined to become one of the dominating sprinters in the Giro.
Petr Vakoc had a remarkable 2016 season. The Czech won several races, including the Brabantse Pijl semi-classic, and he should be even stronger in 2017. In the Canadian classics, he already seemed to have taken another step. The big problem will be to find room in a team loaded with riders for the hilly classics and it may also take a bit more time before he can compete in the hardest of the big one-day races.
Laurens De Plus has long been regarded as the climber that Belgium has been looking for and he is ready to take the next step after a first year during which he made slow progress. He is still likely to be working for the team for most of the time but as there aren’t many GC riders in the team, he may get a chance to show what he can do in one of the one-week races in the spring.
Finally, we will highlight new signing Enric Mas. The Spaniard can time trial and climb and finished in the top 2 in two of the hardest U23 stage races, Giro della Valle d’Aosya and Tour de Savoie. It’s his first year at the highest level and he will start his pro career on the back of a difficult autumn season. However, the Spaniard is huge potential and he may get a chance to show it somewhere.
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