Focus on 2020: Deceuninck-Quick Step

Probable Leaders 2020: Sam Bennett, Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungels, Zdenek Stybar, Remco Evenepoel, Kasper Asgreen, Too many to mention really

KONM’s 2020 Watchlist: Sam Bennett, Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungels, Remco Evenepoel, Kasper Asgreen, Rémi Cavagna, James Knox

Hotness Rating 2020: Balmy

Where to start? This is a team liberally sprinkled with stars; one in which even domestiques, if you can actually call them that, are capable of winning any race on any given day. Aside from perhaps Jumbo-Visma, there’s no WorldTour setup with more depth than Deceuninck-Quick Step.

It’s a truism that DQS race-leadership seems to operate on a rolling, whoever-feels-good-at-the-time rotation, and that certainly appears to be the case. They have so many powerful, capable riders that protected status is shared around based on form, parcours and scenario. And, remarkably, it all works beautifully: rarely could you accuse a Quick Stepper of not working for a team-mate.

That said, one thing has become clear over the past year: Julian Alaphilippe is now the main man. How could he not be? He’s the darling of world cycling and the most exciting, flamboyant and charismatic rider the peloton has seen since Peter Sagan first emerged. Even Quick Step must have some sort of hierarchy and Alaphilippe is at the very top of the chart.

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He sprints. He punches. He climbs. He can time-trial. He’s good-looking and he’s got panache. What more could you ask? Well, Patrick Lefevere will probably find a way to demand something extra from Lord Goatee in 2020, but it’s hard to know what comes next for Ala after such a stellar season. Surely he can’t top that? What would it even take to “top” 2019?

Meanwhile, replacing Elia Viviani (who has joined Cofidis) as lead sprinter is Ireland’s Sam Bennett, whose long-running saga at BORA mercifully comes to an end in January. Over the past two years, Bennett has established himself in the elite group of pure sprinters alongside the likes of Viviani, Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen and former team-mate/rival Pascal Ackermann. It’s not unrealistic to suggest that his move to the most successful team in the men’s pro peloton will result in a big uptick in performances.

Last season Bennett won 13 races and two points classifications despite being somewhat marginalised at his team, so it’s clear that this man is a winner. He’ll have to prove himself at DQS, especially with gifted young fast-men Álvaro Hodeg and Fabio Jakobsen already on the books, but Lefevere et al would be silly not to treat Bennett as a jewel in their sprinting crown. There has been plenty of talk about the Irishman expanding his horizons and transforming into a classics rider, perhaps even more of a puncher. If there’s any team that can help him pull it off it’s this one. Exciting times for the Déisean.

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Then there’s the man everyone keeps calling the “New Merckx”, Remco Evenepoel. Such is the teenager’s fame in Belgium that in December he won the country’s sportsman of the year award for 2019. In 2018, that honour went to Eden Hazard, so he’s in rarefied company.

At this stage of Evenepoel’s career, everyone’s still working out what they can expect from him. The chatter is of an eventual Tour challenge; rare enough for a Flandrian, he has a climber’s physique and can also test with the best of them, as proven by his 2nd in this year’s world championship ITT. Victory at San Sebastian shows he has the punch, a theory reinforced by his GC win on the Baloise Belgium Tour.

So Evenepoel has it all, it seems. The biggest issue might be trying to narrow down his focus, but maybe that’s something best left for the long-term. A kid – he’s still only 19 for god’s sake – who’s relatively new to being a pro should probably be allowed to spend a few seasons experimenting in order to find his true calling without the pressure of “replacing Merckx”, whatever that ephemeral notion actually means. But it doesn’t look like he’s going to get that time, at least from cycling media and fans – and particularly in Belgium. Lefevere will try to protect him, but it’ll be tough.

KONM doesn’t really know what we’re going to get from Evenepoel in 2020, but what we want from everyone is to refrain from burying the poor chap if it doesn’t all go to plan, especially since his name and fame will make him a marked man for opponents. This is, potentially, a generational talent, so let’s not hound him into madness.

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Anyway, look, we’re 650 words into this preview and we haven’t even mentioned riders like Bob Jungels, Zdenek Stybar, Kasper Asgreen, Rémi CavagnaFlorian Sénéchal, Yves Lampaert or James Knox. In many other teams, some of these guys would be outright leaders.

How DQS will manage their squad remains to be seen, but it’s sure to be interesting. All of the above could end up winning big races in 2020 and Asgreen in particular looks an exciting prospect. The Dane finished second quite a lot last season, including at the Ronde, so KONM’s hoping he can jump up to the top step next year.

Jungels had a relatively poor season by his standards and will be hoping to rebuild. Here at KONM Towers, we stan the Luxembourgeois. Stybar is getting on now, having just turned 34, but won E3 and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2019. There’s still a major classics engine in there and only the myopic would rule him out of contention over the next nine to 10 months.

Former Belgian national road champion Lampaert is consistent to a fault but you’d like to see him take more victories. He’s 29 in April so should be at the peak of his powers. Where he stands in this team will be a big question.

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French duo Cavagna and Sénéchal are promising riders, both having taken notable wins in 2019. Cavagna had the savoir-faire, power and fitness to drop a big group with 25km to go on stage 19 of the Vuelta and finish solo, a hugely impressive feat that marked him out as a potential star. Sénéchal, often the worker bee, took his chance at Le Samyn and won his first pro race after a masterclass of attacking and spoiling by his team. Will he get more chances in 2020?

Briton Knox was the team’s GC candidate at the Vuelta and narrowly missed out on the top 10. DQS are not a GC team, at least when it comes to major stage races, so in some ways Knox is fighting a losing battle, but there’s a lot of potential here as well as an endearing character that has KONM hoping for wins from the 24-year-old next season. With Enric Mas gone to Movistar, he’ll get even more chances to achieve that.

Prediction: This is very much a super-team and it’s highly likely the 2020 campaign will bring a shedload of victories. Despite the departure of Viviani, Mas and Philippe Gilbert, DQS are still the strongest outfit in the peloton and have by far the best classics roster.

It would be a shock if the podiums at Roubaix, Flanders and Liège didn’t feature a Quick Stepper or two. The only question is which ones will in the victory-rotation at those points in time.

With that in mind, the main things that KONM’s looking at are the development of Evenepoel, the possible classics-conversion of Bennett and the general circus around Alaphilippe. These are things that excite KONM about this team. Many don’t have much fondness for the Wolfpack machismo, which is completely understandable and justified, but it’s hard for KONM to avoid looking at this setup with anything other than admiration for the sheer quality of the riders, tactics and preparation.

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