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Is the Quick-Step Floors Classics team overrated?

Josh Cunningham
27 Feb 2017

The Belgian team Quick-Step Floors is widely regarded as a Classics super-team. But is it justifiable?

Quick-Step Floors is a team that has built its reputation on success in the Classics, and over the years it has both justified and perpetuated that reputation by consistently producing the results when it matters.

But more recently the post-race headlines have begun to change, with less of them akin to 'Quick-Step domination' and increasingly more akin to 'Quick-Step disappointment'.

Combined with the reality that Tom Boonen, hero of the Quick-Step team for so long, is set to retire after Paris-Roubaix this April, it begs the question whether we should be be adjusting our expectations of the boys in blue?

The team has Classics success in its DNA, being the product of a merger between the Domo-Farm Frites and Mapei teams in 2002, the latter of which Quick-Step had already sponsored since 1999, and who between them had won seven of the previous eight editions of Paris-Roubaix

Classics stars like Johan Museeuw, Franco Ballerini and Michele Bartoli had all played a part in establishing a certain degree of expectation upon the team's inception, and the early successes of Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen helped transition the team into a new era.

With a palmares that includes (at the time of writing) four Paris-Roubaix titles, three Tour of Flanders, three Gent-Wevelgem, three E3 Prijs and a World Championships, the soon-to-retire Belgian has kept the engine at the heart of the team running since then too.

In 2012 Boonen won E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix, but such showcases of strength have been fewer and less dominant since.

However as Boonen began to fade, so too did hope begin to rise for other riders that could potentially begin filling the spaces his name was leaving on silverwear.

World cyclocross champion Zdenek Stybar gave up 'cross to commit to the road full time, instantly drawing expectation from the transferability of his skills and - in time - from his successes at the cobbled Eneco Tour and Classics-style Strada Bianche.

Stijn Vandenbergh, so long a super domestique, had a couple of years when he was up there at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, but has since slipped back off the radar - and on to pastures new at Ag2r. 

It took Tony Martin - fancied as having Cobbled Classic potential - until his last year at Quick-Step before he even attempted to ride them, and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, who seemingly by his stature on a bike alone (because his results suggest otherwise) developed the 'next Boonen' description, has also left.

Ditto Michal Kwiatkowski, who the Belgians saw as having much potential op de kasseien.

Niki Terpstra, a very strong rider in his own right, won Paris-Roubaix in 2014 after enjoying the freedom that having Tom Boonen as a teammate gave him, but this is arguably the last real success that the team has had on the cobbles.

In the mean time, perhaps in a bid to change the team's direction, flirtations with Grand Tours have also fallen rather flat with Levi Leipheimer, Rigoberto Uran and Kwiatkowski. 

Perhaps a significant moment in the dethroning of Quick-Step was in 2015, when Ian Stannard won Het Nieuwsblad from a four-man breakaway in which he was the only rider not in Quick-Step colours.

It was a humiliating event which in some ways was difficult to watch, and Mark Cavendish's win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Yves Lampaert's win at Driedaagse Van West-Vlaanderen were hardly enough to salvage the spring that year.

In 2016 it was only Le Samyn, Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl - Semi-Classics at best - where the team scored victories.

Looking at the startlist from this weekend's racing at Omloop and Kuurne, the Quick-Step Floors team already looked short of ideas.

Philippe Gilbert, Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar could all equally be team leaders if they didn't share one with Tom Boonen, but Gilbert's best days are surely behind him, and neither Terpstra nor Stybar can - on the basis of recent years - be expected as front group shoo-ins.

Indeed, after Boonen crashed out on Saturday, in most people's minds the victory had almost already gone to either Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet or Sep Vanmarcke - before they'd even broken clear.

In the end it was Matteo Trentin - a very strong and tactically astute rider, as proven with wins at the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Paris-Tours - who provided the best result with 4th at Kuurne after unwittingly leading out the sprint.

With all due respect to Julian Vermote, Yves Lampaert, Tim Declercq and Iljo Keisse, who were the other riders in action, while their careers have a spread of victories between them, at no point have any looked as if they're about to start setting the world on fire. 

At multiple points throughout the weekend the familiar sight of big, muscular riders, dressed in blue and stamping their pedals together in unison on the front could be seen.

But while impressive, in the absence of Boonen and the growing distance of the team's founding stars, it is difficult to see what consequence these efforts will have.

Whether that's a product of a natural hangover after all that Boonen has achieved in his career, or of the dearth there will be of realistic Monument winners in the Quick-Step team after he retires, it is difficult to say. 

Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevre, who started the team back in 2002, might also be wondering the same thing.