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Spotlight '08: Quick Step

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First in a random series on the teams that interest me most, and not in order of interest. Like I said... random. Also, others can feel free to pick out teams to review; I don't have a monopoly on this format. As for the format, this will piggy-back onto the Back Pocket Previews I did back in March, with that material in italics. Here goes:

Attributes: The team rides well in Flanders. They have a fat budget. Tom Boonen walks on water.

On further review: They rode well in "Flanders," doing the Cobbles Double when Devolder and Boonen won de Ronde and Paris-Roubaix on successive Sundays. The bench depth showed when Steven DeJongh won K-B-K and second at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Sure, Sylvain Chavanel dealt Quick Step a pair of losses, and Kurt-Asle Arvesen ended Boonen's dominance of E3 Prijs. But between the big ticket items and lesser wins or placings, there's little to complain about their Spring haul.

Problems: Where do you slot all the stars? Also, is there any way they can do something different for a change? I mean, after ten seasons of focusing on Flanders-Roubaix week, is it maybe time to branch out a bit?

On further review: Slotting the stars turned out not to be the issue. In fact, Boonen's deference to Stijn Devolder at Flanders, of all races, speaks volumes about the cohesion the team managed to achieve. Perhaps Gert Steegmans didn't appreciate how things turned out, but I suspect he knew what he was getting into.

As for branching out, it was business as usual, which is to say, they fell off a cliff on May 1. Well, not quite: they defended the maglia rosa on the shoulders of Italian champion Giovanni Visconti for four days of the Giro d'Italia. Visconti also rode very well at Lombardia, though by then he and his mentor Paolo Bettini had broken with the team, so this result is only Quick Step's in name. Obviously the story of the summer was Tom Boonen's absence, due to his incredibly stupid dalliance with cocaine. Rather than rehashing that saga, let's just say that the team suffered by substituting Gert Steegmans -- a stage hunter -- for Boonen's quest for multiple stages and the maillot vert. Steegmans actually delivered on the Champs Elysees, but that was the only occasion the team made more than a casual appearance in the world's greatest sporting event. Five stage wins in the Vuelta didn't exactly make up the difference.

Key Rider(s): Stijn Devolder and Wouter Weylandt. The former has the potential to win somewhere other than the usual races where Quick Step wins. The latter is, well, a talented hopeful. A big year by either one might make the team look at least slightly different. Dare I say... dynamic?

On further review: Ah... nope. Devolder honed his considerable potential in on races Quick Step already owned, a head-scratching development if that was somehow the reason for his signing. Sure, his Flanders win just sort of happened in the process of playing team tactics, and his Tour of Belgium and national ITT titles were perfectly nice results. But Devolder skipped the Ardennes, and made only a few attacks in the Tour, places where he could theoretically bag an occasional result. Don't get me wrong, he had a fine year; he just didn't add anything new to the team. As for Weylandt, he seemed kind of stuck in neutral, though at 24 there is no hurry.

Key Moment: Flanders-Roubaix week. OK, I give up. But hey, if they sweep the podiums... it's not like they have nothing left to accomplish.

On further review: Um, yeah, that was the key moment alright.

Looking Ahead: Boonen hopefully learned his lesson, and will take his place beside Devolder, DeJongh, and Sylvain Chavanel as Patrick Lefevre tightens his iron grip on the northern spring races. The cost of this dominant characteristic continues to be their inability to groom any sort of contingent to challenge anywhere else. In a sense, there is only so much Lefevre can do. He had the rapidly-blossoming Visconti in his grasp, but couldn't unleash him until Bettini stepped aside, and (presumably) couldn't force Bettini out of the way without alienating Visconti. Sure enough, an ugly divorce with Bettini coincided with Visconti jumping to ISD-Danieli... but then, after wearing the tricolore and the maglia rosa, Visconti was ticketed back to Italia eventually. Oh, and Lefevre had his grand tour GC guy signed too... only to see that one evaporate in a cloud of CERA and chimney dust. D'oh! 2009 will look a lot like the last several years, which is respectable if more than a little boring.