2014 Team Previews: Omega Pharma-Quick Step

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Who are the sponsor? Omega Pharma are a pharmaceutical company, whilst Quick Step make wooden flooring.

Nationality: Belgian.

2013 Ranking: 7th.

Past Stars: Richard Virenque, Michael Rodgers, Paolo Bettini, Stijn Devolder, Sylvain Chavanel, Jerome Pineau.

Selected Team Palmares: 2005 World Champion, 4x Paris-Roubaix, 3x Tour of Flanders, 2007 Tour de France Green Jersey, 6x Tour de France Stages (all Tom Boonen), 2011 World Champion, 25x Tour de France stages, 2011 Tour de France Green Jersey, 15x Giro d’Italia stages, 2013 Giro points jersey, 3x Vuelta a Espana stages, 2010 Points competition Vuelta a Espana, 2009 Milan San-Remo (all Mark Cavendish), 2011, 2012 & 2013 World Time Trial Champion, Stages Tour de France 2011 + 2013, (all Tony Martin), Stages, Tour de France (2008, 2x 2010, Sylvain Chavanel),  2nd, Olympic Road Race 2012, 2nd 2013 Giro d’Italia, 3rd, 2012 Tour of Lombardy (all Rigoberto Uran) World Team Time Trial Champions 2012, 2013

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Brief Team History: OPQS have been around in various forms since Mapei, which morphed into Quick Step. Manager Lefervre kept the classics focus with Paolo Bettini the key rider, and they had some glory years from 2005-07 where he and Boonen kept the rainbow jersey in the team for three years. They did however keep looking for a GC rider, trying without success Michael Rodgers, Jose Rujano, and signing Bernhard Kohl before he tested positive (he never rode for the team). Signing Leipheimer also seemed to prove the team had a GC curse. However, after a dire 2010, and with some Czech billions keeping them afloat, Omega Pharma jumped ship from their Belgian rivals Omega Pharma Lotto to bring the technologically brilliant HTC gurus, half the team and Brian Holm and Rolf Aldag to Quick Step to made the superteam it is today.

Last year: The last two years have been interesting for OPQS, who have traditionally always had their success based off their prize asset, a certain Mr Boonen. 2011 was pretty abject for Boonen and the whole team, but 2012 was pretty spectacular, and was followed up with the purchase of some prize acquisitions to bolster the squad up and take the pressure off their Belgian talisman. Most obvious was Mark Cavendish, the star sprinter and guaranteed win machine that everyone wanted. By their own high standards, OPQS didn’t do that well though – Boonen had rotten injury luck and was uncompetitive in the early season, almost losing his arm to an infection, whilst the Cavendish lead out train didn’t gel as well as it perhaps could have. But it’s important to stress they only did badly by their own high standards – their audacious Milan San-Remo plan didn’t come up, and they were taken out by the crowd twice at Paris-Roubaix and still managed to get on the podium, but 11 stage wins in all three Grand Tours through four different riders is not to be sniffed at, nor is two World championships or the Giro points jersey. The Eneco Tour was the only WorldTour stage race they won, but it was the performances that were most impressive by men like Kwiatkowski and Stybar. Four stages at the Tour, with ‘only’ two from Cavendish was probably the season highlight though.

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Transfer dealings: Quite where they’ve found the money to bring in the absolute array of talent for the 2014 team I don’t know, but on paper, OPQS are phenomenally strong now. Even with the loss of Sylvain Chavanel, who leaves for IAM with Jerome Pineau, as well as the retirement of past World TT champ Bert Grabsch, they have bulked up in both the sprint train and general classification arenas. In the former, they already brought in Alessandro Petacchi middway through 2013, but they can add Mark Renshaw, Cavendish’s preferred lead out man, back into the mix, which gives them an obscene number of options. They’ve begun building a dedicated GC unit as well, with the addition of Giro runner up Rigoberto Uran, who we’re told will not ride the Tour and clash with Cavendish, but its surely a problem for 2015. Still, add another Giro podium finisher in Thomas de Gendt and Tour de France stage winner and malliot jaune Jan Bakelandts into the mix and they have a reasonable chance of developing into a GC threat.

Cycling - 2013 Giro D'Italia - Day One - Naples

Who are the star riders? There are essentially three units now in OPQS. Firstly there is the classics, where the main man is Tom Boonen, joint record holder in Roubaix and Flanders, who has strong understudies in Niki Terpstra and Zdnek Stybar. Bridging the gap between this group and the sprinters is Gianni Meersman, a man who can win small group sprints and be a factor in the classics, before we meet the sprint trinity of Mark Cavendish, Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw, who have past Champs Elysees winner Gert Steegmans as well as men like Iljo Keisse to get the up to speed. Then there’s a GC bunch, headed by Olympic medalist and Sky-alumni Rigoberto Uran, whose left the British team to try and get more opportunities like the one that saw him finish second in the Giro in 2013, albeit after Cadel Evans’ gears died in the cold. After an impressive early season and tour, Michael Kwiatkowski will also be one to watch as he continues his development. Hoping to regain his Stelvio conquering form will be Thomas de Gendt, whilst Jan Bakelandts will be keen to build on his impressive 2013 and prove his abilities after a career dogged by injuries. And just when you thought the team couldn’t get much better, there’s also Tony Martin – three time World Time Trial champion and the engine for the squads past two TTT Worlds wins.

Fashion police:  Perhaps because of the ex-Sky men Cavendish and Uran, as well as their new range of superstars, the team has gone for an all black look, which is smart enough, if  a little dull and unoriginal in a field already over populated with black. Blue was always the Quick Step colour, but it’s now relegated to the piping, leaving the teams national champions to spice it up a bit with their colour ways.

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What are their targets? Winning lots and lots regardless of who does it should be the target given their roster, but they will want at least one Monument at a very minimum, preferably from Boonen, who will be going for the outright record at Roubaix and Flanders. Milan San Remo could be trickier with the new route, but they certainly have the attacking roster to do it. Cavendish will want to regain his crown as the ‘world’s fastest sprinter’ from Marcel Kittel, who should give him the inspiration to push himself hard for the big goal of the year: the yellow jersey at the first stage of the Tour in Harrogate. Curiously, Cavendish never seems to mention the green jersey anymore, but this of all years, winning in day one will be important for the team. Tony Martin will be trying to win every time trial again, whilst Uran will hope to finally get a Lefevre team on the podium of a Grand Tour.

What are they likely to achieve?  If Boonen gets to the Cobbles in top form, then Cancellara and him should have a ding-dong battle for glory there, and he should come away with at least one if that’s the case. Don’t write him off for Milan San Remo either – on a new course, you never quite know if the difficulty has been over/under exaggerated until the actual day. Cavendish has an interesting year – he never usually opens the Tour very well, so this year could be the exception, but whether he can still dominate against the likes of Kittel, Greipel and Sagan will be great to watch, if not great for him, although know he has what is probably his best lead out ever, he has no excuses. Martin will hoover everything up as usual and the team should hoover up wins, although Uran probably won’t get on the podium of the Giro again – the field looks very crowded at the moment.

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Components: The team ride Specialized bikes, using the Venge, Roubaix and tarmac models, as well as Zipp components and wheels and SRAM red groupsets. Vermarc make the clothing.

The Big Question(s): Do too many cooks spoil the broth? Is Cavendish’s period of dominance over?

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