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Should Lefevere be Freaking Out?

Ronde_mediumFrom CN, word is that Quickstep DS, Patrick Lefevere, is worried (okay, freaking out) about his team. Many of you have already read that article or others like it. Should he be? Let's look at some numbers to give us a better handle on the situation.

First, it must be said that Lefevere is not worried about his franchise, Tom Boonen, even if the newspapers are depicting Tommeke as a puppy that both Lore and Cadel Evans could love. True, Tom hasn't won anything since stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico and has no victories on the cobbles this year at all. But still he's ranked as the sixth best rider according to CQ, plus he has the highest VDS point total of the year and has looked more impressive this year than the past two. He's obviously on form.

But what of his teammates? Boonen may be good but trying to win the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix by yourself is an order of magnitude harder than if you have teammates who are at least a distraction to other teams' strategies. It can be done but you can't expect to do it. One only has to look at two recent races Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 to see Saxo Bank gang up on Boonen and the rest of the peloton to see how teamwork trumps individual brilliance-especially when said teamwork features some pretty damn fine riders as well. Tom needs help and that means a) Stijn Devolder, b) Sylvain Chavanel, and c) any one of several others like Wouter Weylandt, Maarten Weylandt or whoever. Lefevere is worried because these guys haven't been producing and he's thinking that they can't all of a sudden just flip the switch. Should he be concerned? Let's look at a few of these guys and what they have done in the past to get a better read of the situation.


Stijn Devolder


First year at Quickstep, he started by winning the Volta ao Algarve, scored 15th at KBK, 61st at DdV, 9th at E3, and 3rd at the TT of De Panne before winning De Ronde and placing 7th at P-R.


Last year he started a little slower, getting his first result, a 2nd place at the TT in Tirreno-Adriatico. He followed that up with a 5th at DdV, 6th at E3, and a 3rd on the TT course at Driedaagse De Panne before winning De Ronde. That was his peak last year as he DNF'd at Gent-Wevelgem and placed 55th at Paris-Roubaix.


Much worse, though when you see what the rest of the team is bringing, then you realize how weak Quickstep is this year. 59th at Algarve. 131st at Omloop, 37th at T-A, 80th at DdV, 40th at E3.


There's nothing that says that Devo can just flip that proverbial switch and seriously contend at Flanders on Sunday. I do see him trying however: in E3, he put his nose into the wind and led the leading group at around the 50 km to go mark, which is almost exactly when we've sen him in his winning moves the past two years at Flanders. But then he quickly faded. Even worse, after his breakthrough 2008 season, when he first transferred to Quickstep from Disco, his 2009 campaign was only half as effective so it looks like he's on a multi-year downward progression. So seriously contending for the win on Sunday would be a surprise. I can't see him staying at Quickstep after this year unless he pulls some magic in the next two weeks and it says here that it ain't gonna happen.

Sylvain Chavanel


His last year at Cofidis, the good Chavanel started the year with a 2nd place at Algarve, and followed it up with a 36th at Omloop Het Volk, 9th at Paris-Nice (winning one stage), 59th at MSR, 1st at DdV, 1st at Brabantse Pijl before a 30th at Flanders. Quite a run. He didn't ride P-R-and never did till last year.


He took his career year at Cofidis and trumped it in his first year at Quickstep: 2nd at Algarve, 17th at the Omloop, 9th at KBK, 3rd overall at Paris-Nice (with one stage win), 37th at MSR, 7th at DdV, 5th at E3, 31st at Flanders after being in on the break till the end, and 8th at Paris-Roubaix.


His record this year is hard to read: 13th at Algarve, 20th at Omloop, 22nd at KBK, 14th at Paris-Nice, 21st at MSR, 66th at DdV, 28th at E3, and 22nd at Gent-Wevelgem. Consistently solid but never really threatening, he's not been a major factor to play off of Boonen like, say, Cancellara and Breschel are doing with each other. That could change Sunday as his form hasn't been awful like Devo's but it still feels to me like he will need to step up his game to be truly a help to Boonen.


Chavanel has been Boonen's best lieutenant this year but that's not saying much. I think he has a shot at being a major factor on Sunday but he's not coming into Flanders with the form he's shown the last few years.

Other riders

Wouter Weylandt. Oi. At one time, in 07 and 08, he looked like Tom Boonen, Jr. Last year though he got hurt and he still hasn't gotten back his mojo. He did finish 12th at KBK, after having an 8th and 6th place on stages at Algarve, but was OOT at Gent-Wevelgem. He finished at the back of the pack at every stage of Paris-Nice. I almost wonder if he has Mono or something. At any rate, he's making Devo look like Cancellara. In spite of his lack of form he's slated to start at Flanders because they don't have anyone better.

Kevin De Weert. last year, moved to Quickstep from Cofidis like Chavanel did and had a career year but basically this guy is pack fodder a guy you might send on a doomed early break or as a helper in the early stages of a race. He finished 74th at Flanders last year. This year? Same old, same old: 78th at Omloop, 61st at Paris-Nice, 84th at DdV, 96th at E3. Pack fodder.

Maarten Wynants: He did finish 14th at E3 so maybe his until then completely forgettable year is turning around. Outside of devo and Chavanel, this guy is their best hope.

Hulsmans and Tosatto: the last three guys slated to start on Sunday, they've done nothing this year either.

Kevin Van Impe. Last year he looked on track to have a career year before he got hurt, but that was after his excellent cobbles campaign highlighted by a 1st at DdV but also including a 29th at E3, a 24th at De Panne before a solid 17th at Flanders and a 14th at Paris-Roubaix. He was exactly what every team wants in a support rider. This year? He makes Weylandt look good. Ouch. Seriously, the only time he finished higher than 100th place was in the TTT at Qatar. He does not belong in the pro peloton this year. He's not listed as starting Flanders cause he's sucking so bad.


This is one sorry team that's about to contest Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Kind of shocking how bad they are actually. And definitely the team is showing much worse form than it has in the past couple of years up to this point. That's important because the meme that Devo and Co just wait for the Tour of Flanders to do well is flat-out wrong. In past years you could see the main Quickstep riders all getting better and better results as the early cobbles season wore on. Not so this year.  They've been sucking and blowing all season. So, yeah, Lefevere should be freaking. His team is going down unless Boonen has the rides of his life. Seriously. If Boonen wins either Monument this year then you will have to rank that win as probably the best ride he'll ever have. 

We'll go into this more later in the week, but depth-wise several teams are deeper this year: Saxo, Rabobank, Sky, BMC, even Astana, Garmin, and freakin' Lotto. Throw in Katusha and Columbia while you are at it. Maybe a couple others. When was the last time that Quickstep came into Flanders so weak? As such any oddsmaker who favors Tom Boonen for a win at either race is looking for suckers. He could win just because he's so awesome but when was the last time Flanders or Paris-Roubaix was won by such a weak team?

Best case: Chavanel gets in a late break that shakes up the other teams. Or, more remotely, Devo pulls a miracle out of his ass and finds his old form. Somehow those two take the pressure off of Boonen who will otherwise be riding the wheels of the main contenders to the finish line.

Worst case: Boonen is all alone from kilometer 2. Oh a couple of his teammates are around him for a while but the other teams never worry a minute about them and work Tornado Tom mercilessly and he finishes well back. 

Long term: Lefevere tears apart the team in the winter. We all know the Contador rumors; besides that though Devo is shown the door and the team picks up a promising young cobbles rider from a lesser team to go with Boonen and Chavanel.