Omega Pharma-Quick Step aims for “better than last year”
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Friday, January 13, 2012

Omega Pharma-Quick Step aims for “better than last year”

by Ben Atkins at 2:54 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Olympics
 
Classics focus remains for Belgian team; new names bring new ambitions

omega pharma-quick stepThe Videohouse Studios on the outskirts of the Belgian capital Brussels, were the venue for the presentation of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team today. The event, run as “The First Show” – a slick TV chat show, described by Classics star Tom Boonen as “really fun and ironic” – was presented by Belgian former Laatste Show presenter Mark Uytterhoeven; the show was complete with house band Yevgueni, who played the team’s key personalities on to the stage.

Missing from the show was the team that has already flown south for the Tour Down Under, track star Iljo Keisse, who was riding the Bremen Six Days, and new signing Levi Leipheimer, who has stayed at home in California to prepare for his season debut at the Tour de San Luis.

Leipheimer sent a video message, but the Tour Down Under team – including Gert Steegmans – spoke to Uytterhoeven live via Skype.

After an ordinary 2011 season, for the team’s manager and CEO Patrick Lefevere, the targets for victory this year are clear.

“At least more than last year,” he smiled. “That is not that difficult, I think; but which race… it’s very difficult to put a name on it.”

With the team’s Belgian heart, and with it’s historical affinity with the Spring Classics, Uytterhoeven suggested that the specific number one target would be the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

“Let’s start with Milan-Sanremo,” Lefevere replied. “If you win Milan-Sanremo… then the next races, you don’t need to win, you may win, and that’s always easier with sportsmen.”

One of the big targets for many riders this season will be the Olympic Games in London at the end of July, but this is not something that Lefevere has any interest in; despite the fact that the team’s former rider Paolo Bettini was champion in Athens, 2004.

“Because the return of investment for the sponsors is almost nothing,” he reasoned.

For the season as a whole though, Lefevere hopes that his team will be consistently competitive once more.

“To be present in every race,” he said. “Competitive; to win, or at least to try to win the race. Not only with Tom Boonen… but with the complete team.”

“Keeping with your feets [sic] on the ground,” he smiled. [Fiets – pronounced ‘feets’ – is Dutch for bike.]

Renewed focus on the Classics for the Tornado van Mol

The team’s top-rider – in terms of profile, if not recent results – is former Belgian and World champion Tom Boonen. The 31-year-old has been forced to endure two torrid seasons, suffering injuries from a number of crashes – although he picked up his second victory in Gent-Wevelgem in April last year – and so, like Lefevere, Boonen’s ambition for 2012 is obvious.

“To be good on the entire season I think,” he said. “It’s important to the team to have a good start, but also… to have a good pace; every time you want to have a good result it’s important not to fall back too far.

“I think it’s important to be all year round,” he added.

While Boonen has won races throughout the year, including stages of the Grand Tours, and that 2005 World title, Uytterhoeven pointed out that the big focus of Boonen’s season is just nine days; taking in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s a little bit more than that, but the most important goals are in two weeks; from Sanremo to Roubaix,” he explained. “It’s not a long time, but I’ve been successful before. My strongest point is getting there in shape, and being one hundred percent fit in those three weeks.”

Should Boonen win this year’s Ronde, he will join former teammate and mentor Johan Museeuw as the only riders to have taken both Flanders and Roubaix three times. “Vlaanderens Mooiste” will have a radically different finish this year though, with three ascents each of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, before a run into the pretty town of Oudenaarde; Boonen admitted that he has not had a chance to check out the new course yet.

“I was going to,” he explained, “because I was in Belgium between Christmas and New Year, but then the weather was really bad for those few days, so I think it will be something in maybe the next two, three days while I’m here. But I think it will be a very hard race and maybe a little bit of a different rider can come to the front in this situation, with longer and harder efforts.

“But in the end, the big names from the last few years will still be there in the final,” he added. “It’s a goal for everyone I think; to win the first new Tour of Flanders.”

Boonen also confirmed that he is moving back to Belgium, from the Principality of Monaco, and an ultrasound pregnancy scan was also shown, but he laughed and denied that his girlfriend Lore Van De Weyer was expecting a baby.


Many new faces and a number of big stars

Omega Pharma-Quick Step did very well in the transfer market this winter, profiting very much from the RadioShack/Leopard Trek merger, and the folding of HTC-Highroad. As well as picking up Leipheimer, and Michal Kwiatkowski, from the former, Lefevere has managed to attract World time trial champion Tony Martin, Irish champion Matt Brammeier, German time trial champion Bert Grabsch, Czech František Rabon, and Slovakian twins Martin and Peter Velits from the latter.

tony martinFor Martin, 2011 was a stellar year, as he proved that Swiss time trialling machine Fabian Cancellara was is not invincible. In addition to that World title, the German managed to best Spartacus in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España time trials, and took the overall at the Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice, and the new Tour of Beijing.

“So far everything is nice,” said Der Panzerwagen of his new team. “Slowly we’re getting to know each other and I think we’re starting now to create the new team, and the team spirit. So the process is there and so far everything is really fine.”

With his stock very much on the rise in recent years, there was a lot of interest in the German once it was known that he would be available this year; he explained why he had settled upon the Belgian squad.

“It’s true there was some interest and I really did take my time, to speak to every manager of every team,” he explained, “and I also had a really good meeting with Patrick [Lefevere]; and I ‘m a boy that decides from the stomach, and really the best feeling was Patrick, and he shows me some opportunities for the future. That gave me a lot of morale and so I thought, for sure, I have the best chance with this team.”

For Martin, who enjoyed a far better 2011 than most of his hew teammates, a repeat of last year is what the German hopes for; as well as one big target that perhaps his new boss would prefer that he ignored.

“If I can repeat the season from 2011 I think I can say it’s again a really good season for me in 2012; so the big goal for me is to repeat this,” he said. “The special [thing] this year is that we have the Olympic Games, and for me, and I think also for Germany – and in Belgium – the Olympics are really big.

“Not for Patrick, but maybe for the rest of Belgium,” he laughed. “So my big goal is also to fight there for the medals in the time trial.”

Another new name at the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team is that of Specialized, as the team makes its much-publicised switch back to the frames that it rode between 2007 and 2009. The team’s bikes will be equipped with SRAM components, with wheels by Zipp and powermeters from Quarq.

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