Omega Pharma-Lotto vs Quick Step: The underdog bites back
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Omega Pharma-Lotto vs Quick Step: The underdog bites back

by Ben Atkins at 5:31 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, Montepaschi Strade Bianche
 
Belgian rival teams' fortunes are reflected in those of each of their star riders

philippe gilbertPhilippe Gilbert’s incredible Ardennes triple – or quadruple if you count Brabantse Pijl in the week before Amstel Gold – only serves to emphasise the current difference in fortune between his Omega Pharma-Lotto team and its big rival Quick Step. Although the season is really just beginning, Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège marks the end of the spring Classics, which, in much of Belgium, is the most important time of year.

Traditionally the Omega Pharma-Lotto team, and all its previous incarnations, has been the underdog; Quick Step, on the other hand, has always been one of the biggest, most glamorous teams in the sport.

Now, it seems, the boot is on the other foot.

The fortunes of both teams can be summed up in those of each one’s star rider and figurehead: Gilbert at Omega Pharma-Lotto and Tom Boonen at Quick Step. They’re both good friends and neighbours in the principality of Monaco, but right now their fortunes could hardly be more different.

Both teams are aiming high at the Classics, and right now Gilbert is the strongest in the hilly Ardennes races; while Boonen is doubtless still strong on the cobbles of the north, he has many more challengers and has been unable to dominate in the same way.

Gilbert has won the Montepaschi Strade Bianche, as well as his Ardennes quadruple, in addition to a number of smaller races; Boonen, conversely, has Gent-Wevelgem to add to his single stage win at the Tour of Qatar.

Boonen has also suffered his own share of bad luck this season; a bout of ‘flu in early March threatened to derail his spring campaign, but a disastrous jammed chain in the Forest of Arenberg, followed by a bizarre crash on the cobbles destroyed his Paris-Roubaix race just when it looked like he may have found his peak of form.

Gilbert on the other hand, has had no such luck and has seemed to almost lead a charmed existence this year.

Bad luck and charmed lives

tom boonenBoonen’s best years for results years were 2005 and 2006, when he was winning his Rondes van Vlaanderen, his first Paris-Roubaix, some Tour stages and, of course, the World championship. Back then Gilbert was still a developing rider, with Française des Jeux, whose biggest victory came in the Omloop Het Volk (now Het Nieuwsblad).  While he has undoubtedly remained one of the best riders in the World, Boonen has struggled to recapture those years; Gilbert has just got better, and better, and better.

More recently, Boonen lost much of last season to a knee injury but has so far suffered no recurrence of it.

Neither team is a one-man-show by any means, but many of Boonen’s teammates have suffered similar bad luck. The two most aggressive Quick Step riders of the early season, Sylvain Chavanel and Dutch champion Niki Terpstra have both suffered crashes when looking like they were on top form. Chavanel saw his Paris-Roubaix ruined by a nasty tumble on a corner, while Terpstra was taken out by a freak gust of wind during the time trial of the Driedaagse De Panne.

Gert Steegmans was brought back to the team to support Boonen, and has chipped in with the team’s only other win in the Nokere Koerse; Chavanel took a fine second place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, although many said he might have won had he been able to ride for himself.

Until Boonen’s victory in Gent-Wevelgem last month though, Quick Step didn’t have a single rider in the International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour rankings, and the UCI didn’t even list the team in the classification.

Omega Pharma-Lotto’s big signing for 2011 was German sprinter André Greipel and, while he has picked up a couple of stage wins, he has yet to set the road alight. Aside from Gilbert’s miracle spring however, Greipel is the team’s only other winner.

So what now?

What remains to be seen is how the rest of the season pans out for the two rival teams. The usual pattern to Gilbert’s season means that his results should go quiet from now until the autumn; although he is riding the Tour this year, it’s doubtful he’ll be quite so prolific in the summer.

Omega Pharma-Lotto has Greipel to take stage victories and Jurgen Van Den Broeck for the overall in the Tour. It will be interesting to see if the two of them, and the rest of the team’s riders, can step into Gilbert’s shoes.

Quick Step, on the other hand, currently has no such options; Boonen will be chasing Tour stages and Chavanel will also be hoping to get close to repeating his incredible race of last year. The team has no overall contender for the Grand Tours though, and will have to bank on breakaways and sprints for success.

The big unknown for Quick Step will be the performance of World cyclocross champion Zdenek Stybar; the Czech will make his debut for the team next month.

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