Oh, I know exactly where to start...
1. These F’n Guys
This is an article about the legacy of Mathieu van der Poel. OK, not entirely, but can we step back and behold the wonder of ... Alpecin-Deceuninck? The name alone is a sign of something big, which masks an even bigger story about a team that was (presumably happily) muddling through at the lower ranks of road cycling as a side project to its more profitable cyclocross exploits. Only in Belgium, I guess. But then this wonderful rider came along, an almost-Belgian from just over the border, with actual Dutch and French lineage and citizenship. And a motor like the sport has rarely ever seen. That one rider superpowered the Cross endeavor, until he decided his true destiny (or paycheck anyway) lay in road racing. So he went there and became an instant sensation on a far bigger scale.
But because he liked his environs, he decided not to switch to a fancier team, but rather to bring his current one along for the ride. That gamble has paid off in so many ways for all parties. That marvelous rider, van der Poel, has continued ticking off career goals, albeit within reason and not without competition, oh no, not at all. But it would be difficult to argue that his “small team” has held him back even a little.
And now that small team has transformed into a bigger team, and then a Grand Tour team, even a Tour de France team, and now they have a World Tour license. Until 2019 van der Poel had only dabbled in road racing (he had big MTB ambitions too), and the team had few other riders of note winning notable races. So this meteoric rise to the World Tour happened over a mere four full cycling seasons (if you can call the Covid years “full”). Now they not only line up with the biggest teams, they do so wearing the names of title sponsors who previously attached themselves to Peter Sagan and the Quick Step machine.
That is not an amusing little story. That’s a revolution.
2. Couldn’t someone have just reminded him about the plank?
Everything about van der Poel’s career has been like a dream, but how much longer that will be the case is to be determined. And it’s still all because of that goddam crash in the Olympic mountain bike race when van der Poel tipped nose first off the rock feature because he forgot that the wood plank they leave in place at rock features in training gets removed for the race. Most recently, when the pain resurfaced at a ‘Cross race in January, van der Poel confirmed the problem and went so far as to say that his doctors can’t find the precise issue, which makes it hard to say if it will ever really go away. His team mitigates the problem, and he soldiers on, well enough to become a world champion, so maybe we shouldn’t be too alarmist.
Van der Poel intends to ride a full slate of his favorite classics — Strade Bianche, Flanders, Roubaix — and then Suisse, Le Tour, and Worlds. Exactly where a team sends its star rider, and maybe the road doesn’t trigger his back pain as easily as a cross race does. But it’s all a little dicey, and it would be a shame for the sport if this kept on.
3. Will they miss Merlier?
Van der Poel’s lieutenant, Tim Merlier, is off to Soudal-Quick Step, for reasons he explains very confusingly. Did he not get enough turns as the sprinter in bunch gallops? He also talked about how he’s at his best in one-day races, sprinting after a harder race. Anyway, the role he’s vacating is a bit of both, backing up both their primary sprinter Jasper Philipsen and their primary classics guy van der Poel.
Incoming is Kaden Groves and Soren Kragh Andersen for the sprinting side of the house. Groves has solid stage race sprinting chops, coming off wins in the Volta a Catalunya, the Vuelta and another in Turkey last year. In that sense Alpecin just got younger at the backup sprinter spot. SKA, however, might be the bigger signing. Not sure why DSM parted ways with him, but a former Tour stage winner as well as conqueror of classics like Paris-Tours, Kragh Andersen gives them a big boost next to van der Poel, or in his stead at races like Gent-Wevelgem. They even have a backup-backup in Lionel Taminiaux. And a backup-development project in Jensen Plowright (awesome name). Alpecin Deceuninck have been a revelation in the sprints the last few years, and that looks set to continue, like indefinitely.
4. But otherwise this team is kinda odd?
Well, most teams organize around a primary purpose, and once that’s done, they take what they can get, right? At least the ones without top budgets to sustain an “all of the above” approach. Once again, we never really know much about budgets from year to year, just the odd estimate leaked out. It’s safe to say that Deceuninck gives this squad a boost, and we may get a better sense of their profile going forward over the next 8 months. They had the sponsor coming in last transfer season, but that doesn’t mean the right riders were available.
So yes, they are among the top classics behemoths, a skill that can double as stage hunting prowess in the grand tours. But what about when the road tilts up? They had something of a solution in house in Jay Vine, but he absconded to UAE. Huge loss. Quentin Hermans comes in but I would hardly call him a replacement, shock podium in Liège or no. He’s a cyclocrosser who can climb, for sure, but more at the small classics or odd medio-montagne stage level. Nicola Conci wandered in from the wilderness after debuting with Trek, signing with RusVelo, and being set free after the team’s dispersal. He has potential in the hilly classics, but hasn’t stood out in that crowded field yet. Tobias Beyer? Jason Osborne? I dunno. The more you comb through this roster, the more apparent it is that they are a classics behemoth.
5. Kit Review!
Without a lengthy history there won’t be quite as much to say here as with some other teams, but it’s not nothing. Let’s see where things stand in 2023:
Of late there is a lot of blue happening, so the story with this one is the slow fade from black shorts to a blue top. Classy, definitely works, hardly revolutionary but I’ll allow it.
2022: Same as 2023?
I’m looking for differences in last year’s kit. Maybe the shade of blue was slightly different? Or this is just a trick of the light. They did do something different last year though:
2022 Giro Special “Verde Comodoro”
Oddly enough, the one outlier wasn’t at the Tour and wasn’t celebrating some designer’s magical flair, but rather the sponsor’s latest wall covering, done in “verde comodoro” or peaceful green. It matches incredibly poorly with the Belgian Champs’ sleeve piping, but was otherwise rather pleasant and unique. And after 2021, it was pretty cool for them to do a jersey special at the Giro rather than in France. Nice zag.
2021 Standard: Darker blue
The current iteration evolved from this blue, which evolved from another blue (hang on a moment) and which is obviously part of a clear trend for their basic kit. It’s darker than the new one. Yay?
‘21 Tour Mercier Special
When not underwhelming us with their basic blue, Alpecin has been blowing us away with their special editions, and for me it will never top this: the throwback to the Mercier look from the 1960s and 70s. Why? Get the hankies ready...
As famous as van der Poel’s dad Adrie is, his grandpa Raymond Poulidor has set the family bar for the kids. Pou-pou, as he was (very) affectionately known in his riding days, passed away in 2019, and van der Poel not only had something to do with paying tribute through the kit — he quintupled down on the matter by taking the yellow jersey shortly thereafter, something Grandpa was famously never able to do. Tears flowed. People (ahem!) ran out and bought the jersey. It was a big deal.
2020 Almost Black
OK, back to our regular programming. And yes, more blue. Even darker. I guess those were darker times? Or the current ones are lighter? Anyway.
2018-19: Corendon Circus Simply Red
Prior to the current sponsors, the team was Corendon Circus, evolving from the Cross world. Alpecin represented a break in both the team’s fortunes and its kit, so here we turn to what there used to be. And that was... red.
2017: Beobank Purple
Before that, it was Beobank, where purple and red were thrown together in a cross-alternating pattern. Points for originality and overall pleasantness.
Old Times: BKCP Black
And all the way back to the origins, when the team was created for Niels Albert, given a nominally black and white billboard on which to list their 14,000 small sponsors, and then put on training clothes, because Albert mostly raced in the Rainbow stripes.
OK, there you have it. Let’s vote!
What’s the best of the Alpecin Looks?
This poll is closed
2022-23: Fade to blue
2022 Giro Special Verde Comodoro
2021 More slightly darker blue
2021 Mercier Special
2020: Darkest Blue
2018 Corendon Red
2017 Beobank Red and Purple
Older BKCP Black & White Billboard