Here’s the last one till thursday, when Garmin-Sharp will get their jersey unveiled and we can track Jonathan Vaughter’s rise to the top. This time its two of everyones favourite teams: Telekom/T-Mobile/HTC, home of the many a famed rider but specifically Erik Zabel, Jan Ullrich and Mark Cavendish, and Quickstep, now OmegaPharma-Quickstep, or snappily known as OPGS, which is essentially the Tom Boonen squad until this year, where a much needed new influx of talent brought them the success they deserved.
You could write a book on the trials and tribulations of this team (indeed, my dissertation for Uni was at one point going to be about them). 1988, Hennie Kupier set up a Gteam that was sponsored by the city of Stuttgart and rode on Eddy Merckx cycles: Stuttgart-Merckx-Gonsor. The team became Stuttgart-Mercedes-Merckx-Puma in 1990, and went through various name changes until 1991, when Telekom came onboard to produce a dynasty of success, albeit mixed with a succession of flops – this is a team that over the years has bought Kevin Livingstone, a defector from US Postal, as an attempt to be embarrass Armstrong, Bobby Julich on the strength of this 3rd place in 1998, Paolo Salvodelli after his 2002 Giro win, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla, and even Cadel Evans after his 2002 Giro successes. All bombed, and it inevitably fell to the main men in Ullrich, Vinokourov, Riis and Zabel to take the success. Indeed, the begginning of the end for the team was the departure of their dependable bedrock Erik Zabel, fed up of being marganilised behind Ullrich at the Tour.
It’s arguable that the Highroad set up that emerged out of the ashes of T-Mobiles abandonment, even though Bob Stapleton argues otherwise, trying to define HTC as a new team, but in reality, despite the exit of Pevenage and Ullrich, the young riders who had ridden for the team remained. Still, bikes changed from Giant to Scott, adidas left and so on, so its still fairly debatable. For continuity purposes, they were the same team, and a team that, apprently bored of having had pretty much the same jersey for 15 years, with a ‘Telekom T’ phase, in which Riis and Ullrich won their only Tours and Zabel scooped the majority of his 6 green jerseys, and a T-Mobile phase, where the ‘magenta’ took presidence, they could do with three jersys in 6 months.
After the original black High Road jersey was mocked for the dark connotations it gave off, especially with riders being reported as riding in black kit to avoid doping inspectors at the time (being given the omnious ‘men in black’ moniker for their troubles), the team, super charged with young talent such as Andre Greipel, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Gerald Ciolek and Mark Cavendish (Matt Goss was busy winning the Tour of Britain at CSC) changed to white jerseys as Cavendish and Greipel argued over who had let who win what as they hoovered up at the Giro. By July, Columbia had come on board, changing the kit to blue for Cavendish to take his first four Tour stage wins. The new strategy emphasising just winning anything over GC glory was paying huge dividends.
In 2009, the team changed to a yellow and white Superhero based onsemble, complete with comedy abs, and empahsising the second sponsor site for sale on the jersey through the ‘High Road’ logo. HTC took the bait, and the team had probably its best tour, subject of the film Chasing Legends, with the Columbia-HTC moniker. The following year the names were reveresed, and in the final year, the jersey was changed again as Columbia left to leave HTC alone, with the black shorts supposedly because Cavendish wasn’t overly keen on the mildy see through white ones. Saddly, despite winning both World Titles, and having HTC alumni wiping out the podium for the road race, the team folded, having not found a new sponsor. They had become somewhat of a feeder squad as talents outgrew the team and tried to move on. Still, they remain a highly nostalgic and well loved outfit, as much for their success as the loveable underdog status of ‘Der Kaiser.’
Quickstep, now OmegaPharma-Quickstep, have come to be defined against the success of one man: Tom Boonen. This is despite the myriad of talent the team has posessed, and the success it has had: Since 2003, the team has taken Paris Roubaix four times, the Tour of Flanders five times, three World Road titles and two time trial titles (including the double in 2005) as well as the Olympic gold, although in fairness these are Belgian and Italian team achievements. A la T-Mobile, they had an endless search for GC talent, using Michael Rodgers and Jose Rujano as well as Juan Manuel Garate to target success in the grand tours to match their fantastically successful classics squad, which at one time constiuted Boonen, Nick Nuyens, Fillipo Pozzato, Paolo Bettini and Stijn Devolder – all Monument winners. Still, Boonen was the focal point, and often the fortunes of the team seemed to rise and fall agaisnt those of their talisman.
Now, technically the 2002 team isnt Quickstep, but Mapei- although Quickstep were a co-sponsor for Mapei then, and frankly I just wanted to use a picture of their glorious kit. The team actually began in 2003 as Quicstep-Davitamon as Farm Frites and Mapei collasped and amalgamated into the squad, and really kicked off the following year with Boonen in his stride. 2005 was Boonen’s annus mirabilis (until perhaps 2012), were he took Flanders and Roubaix before taking two stages of the Tour before crashing out, having taken the Champs Elysees sprint the year before. He then won the Worlds in Madrid, kicking off Quicksteps domination of the jersey as Paolo Bettini won in Salzberg and Stuttgart to be World and Olympic champion. 2006 was as successful: Boonen won Flanders in rainbows and celebrated Pozzato’s Milan San-Remo triumph, but they then stalled at the Tour.
Boonen bounced back from his misery in not winning a stage despite holding the malliot jaune as well as being world champion by taking two stages and the green jersey after leadouts from the poached Gert Steegmans from rivals Lotto, and Steegmans even managed to nick a stage infront of his own leader into Belgium. Big Gert’s finishing speed was needed the next year as with Boonen out of the tour for the first of three cocaine positives, he saved Quicksteps tour by taking the final stage. The years of their white jersey (2008-9) were most distinguished by the defence of Roubaix by Boonen and of Flanders by Devolder, who then went off to try and become a GC contender with little effect.
The teams 2010 kit was notable as they had already actually worn it in 2009, as a training kit for the classics. The ‘retro’ design was however not allowed to be raced by the UCI, and the team had to revert to the white. They still won though. The jersey returned for 2010 and another Boonen free Tour, although Sylvain Chavannel won two stages and held Yellow to make it a success. By 2011, the kit was like the team: sprucing itself up with some agressive red in the vain hope of glory, except that none came. Whilst Chavannel came 2nd in Flanders, Boonen crashed out of Roubaix and the Tour, and had now not won a stage since 2007 nor a classic since 2009, with 2nds in Milan San Remo, Flanders and Roubaix plus a win in Gent-Whevelgem his only consolation. With Phillipe Gilbert’s glorious success, the old King of Belgium had seemingly fallen ever since he lost a one on one sprint to Gilbert at Paris Tours whilst clad in the Belgian tricoloure. Something was desperately needed, for Boonen, as well as Quickstep.
That help arrived in 2012 with the movement of sponsor OmegaPharma to the team from their Lotto rivals, as well as the backing of billionaire Zdenek Bakala to ensure financial stability. The team brought in the fallen HTC set up, as well as world TT champ Tony Martin, Levi Leipheimer and the Velits twins to rejuvenate the team, whilst continuing support for Zdenek Stybar’s cyclo-cross campaign. It looked briefly like it might be same-old same old when Boonen was outsprinted by Sep Vanmarke at Het Niewsblad, but ‘Tomeke’ then knocked off a wealth of victories – E3, Ghent Whevelgem, and the Flanders-Roubaix double for the second time, a first for any rider. Indeed, with Boonen on fire, its the new recruits who are suffering – Martin and Leipheimer both were hit by cars and struggled back to form, although both look to be coming on strongly for the Tour. Boonen however is going for the Olympics, and with a good worlds course and a recent Belgian champs victory under his belt, we could see Tornado Tom reel off the first Flanders-Roubaix-Olympics-Worlds quadruple.