Patrick Lefevere, Manager of the Quick-Step team, is a throwback to the old iron-fisted directors such as the “Kaiser” Peter Post of Ti Raleigh fame. The Belgian is hard, stern and deeply knowledgeable about every aspect of the sport as the team’s astounding 49 victories so far this year attest. What’s interesting is that the packet of wins is spread out over 13 different riders – that’s a lot of egos to manage.
There are a few ways to approach a Tour from a strategic point of view: All for one, as in the way that the US Postal was completely dedicated to bringing Lance to Paris – AG2R is using that with Bardet this year. Have a Yellow contender and a stage winner – Think BMC with Richie Porte and Greg Van Avermaet – which begins to split the team into different camps as we saw yesterday with Van Avermaet on his own in the finale with the team remaining around Porte. Movistar, in turn, have three leaders but all are for the GC (Yellow jersey competition) so the goal is clear, you’ve got more men to cause mischief in its pursuit. Then, there’s Quick-Step.
Fernando Gaviria has won two stages already, so he has his claim on the team efforts. Phillipe Gilbert (aging and winless this year) and Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe both can see the Yellow jersey within seconds of their grasp and are racing like men obsessed. Bob Jungels, winner of the Young Rider Classification in the 2016 and 2017 Giro d’Italia, is very much ready to make his first real challenge at a Tour podium and needs and deserves to be a team focus.
Things went weird for the first time in the Team Time Trial. Jungels, unhinged, blew the team apart on the early climbs, losing Gaviria whose presence, in my view, on the hyper-fast second half of that race would have given them the win and a Yellow Jersey for Gilbert. Lefevere played the errors down in his post-race interviews, but, knowing the Flandrians the way I do, I’m sure that things got very hot on the team bus afterwards. Gilbert must have been seething at Jungels for that rookie move and his lost opportunity. As for Gaviria and his brilliant lead-out man Maximiliano Richeze, that “easy” ride off the back saved them energy for the following day’s victory – don’t think these calculations weren’t going through their heads. Cyclists are a tricky bunch.
My favorite rider of the entire clan is Tim Declercq – you know, he’s the giant-seeming one who when you turn on the TV is on the front hammering away, you go out to brunch, come back an hour and a half later, turn the TV back on, and there he is still, hammering away on the front. Declercq embodies the self-sacrifice and dedication to team that the best riders of his ilk have – think George Hincapie – and I’m sure that internally, his efforts set the example to keep the team cohesion in place despite all the ambitions roiling around in that organization. A rider who is worth his, considerable, weight in gold and not just for his power.
So far, it’s all worked out for Quick-Step: the tempo on the front of the bunch has served to garner two stage wins and, in the process, keep Jungels in front and away from crashes. Weirdness, however, returned yesterday in the run-in to Quimper. Alaphillipe and Gilbert were both designees for the win: Gilbert attacked early in the sprint, was unable to stay away but still had enough gas in the tank to hold on for 3rd, a fairly astounding effort, while Alaphillipe, who in theory should have been able to capitalize on Gilbert’s move, was only 5th. Something went wrong there and while much of the media have already all but anointed Alaphillipe as the winner and Yellow jersey at the end of today’s stage, watch for Gilbert. He’s on form in a big way and as he’s stated to the press: “I feel great. I’ve given so much to the team this season so I think it’s time for me as well to chase a stage win.” Lefevere has his hands full.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.