Alpecin-Deceuninck Team Talk: Best season yet for the team who just keep on improving

GCN looks back on a stellar 2023 campaign that brought two Monument victories and plenty of Grand Tour success

Clock21:32, Tuesday 14th November 2023
Finishing 1-2 at Paris-Roubaix was the biggest moment in Alpecin-Deceuninck's history to date

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Finishing 1-2 at Paris-Roubaix was the biggest moment in Alpecin-Deceuninck's history to date

It is not too many years ago that Alpecin-Deceuninck, once known as Corendon-Circus, were regarded as precious more than a vehicle through which Mathieu van der Poel could play out his road cycling fantasies. The Dutchman was making a name for himself as a multidisciplinary extraordinaire in 2018 and 2019, and Corendon-Circus were simply the team there to support him.

In 2020, however, the team became Alpecin-Fenix and a more eclectic, international cast of characters was put together by team founders Philip and Christoph Roodhooft. From a Benelux, Van der Poel-orientated team, to one that signed a host of talented riders from around the globe, Alpecin-Fenix slowly began to mould into something very different from their roots.

Three years on and it is safe to say the transition from a plucky cyclocross crew to an all-encompassing road team is complete. 2023 marked Alpecin-Deceuninck's first year as a UCI WorldTeam and saw them end the season in eighth place in the UCI rankings - not a bad effort in the slightest.

From once being a team centred around the victories of Van der Poel, Alpecin-Deceuninck in fact found most of their wins elsewhere in 2023, whilst turning to the Dutchman for their most prestigious titles.

A year in which they won two Monuments, several Grand Tour stages and brought the world champion's rainbow bands into the team's lineup, 2033 will be remembered very fondly by the Roodhooft brothers as a year in which their Belgian outfit earned its place amongst the elite.

GCN's 2023 Review

The fact that Alpecin-Deceuninck won 35 races this season is made more impressive when you note that only seven different riders contributed to that tally. That is to say, when Alpecin-Deceuninck's leaders win, they often win at will.

The leaders in question over the past two years have been Van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen, but the Belgian outfit was strengthened further this season by the addition of Australia's Kaden Groves. The former Jayco-AlUla rider has bolstered the team's sprinting ranks and allowed Alpecin-Deceuninck to be competitive at every Grand Tour they race in.

Remarkably, the team's streak of winning a stage at every Grand Tour they have ever raced has continued through the year, now tallying nine Grand Tours in a row with stage victories - thanks to Groves and Philipsen this time around.

Read more: Best men's WorldTour bikes of 2023: Which brand won the most races?

Søren Kragh Andersen, Dries De Bondt, Jakub Mareczko and Timo Kielich each chipped in with a valuable win, at Eschborn-Frankfurt, the Antwerp Port Epic, ZLM Tour and Ethias-Tour de Wallonie, respectively. For Mareczko, it proved to be his final win in Alpecin-Deceuninck colours before moving to Corratec-Selle Italia, but both De Bondt and Kragh Andersen will be hoping to pick up multiple victories in 2024 - as they have done in the past.

As for the three leaders, a slow start preceded the metaphorical floodgates opening in the Spring, with Alpecin-Deceuninck having to wait until Tirreno-Adriatico in March for their first victory of the campaign.

Getting the team off the mark in Italy, Philipsen made light work of his sprinting competition on stages 3 and 7 to lay down an ominous marker for the season ahead. On both occasions, Van der Poel proved instrumental in the Belgian's lead-out and despite not contesting a stage win for himself at the seven-day stage race, the Dutchman's time would come just one week later.

Already a winner of the Tour of Flanders in 2020 and 2022, Van der Poel added a second Monument to his palmarès at Milan-San Remo in March. Taking inspiration from Matej Mohorič's (Bahrain Victorious) audacious move last season, Van der Poel attacked over the top of the final climb and produced a lung-busting descent to win the first Monument of the season some 62 years after his late grandfather, Raymond Poulidor.

A week later Van der Poel played his part in a trio of excellent days for the team that began with Groves' victory on stage 4 of the Volta a Catalunya. It was the Australian's first win of the season and much like Philipsen, it did not take him long to double up, winning stage 6 just two days later.

In the interim day, meanwhile, Van der Poel notched up second place at E3 Saxo Classic in a race for the ages that saw him, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) engage in a three-up sprint to the line.

For the Milan-San Remo winner, promising signs in what is effectively the Tour of Flanders warm-up race, the E3 Saxo Classic, was followed by disappointment at the main showcase itself. This time around, it was Pogačar who got the better of Van der Poel, with a 17km solo effort that the 28-year-old could do nothing about.

Taking a step back, two-second places are nothing for Alpecin-Deceuninck to turn their nose up at, but with a rider in the ilk of Van der Poel, the expectations are for massive victories. A sense of 'what if' may have crept in after these two races, but the WorldTeam responded in resounding fashion at Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix.

Van der Poel himself was a surprising last-minute addition to the team's Scheldeprijs lineup, but whilst the race proved as valuable kilometres in the legs ahead of the French Monument, the day was all about his supreme teammate Philipsen.

Known as the sprinters' Classic or the World Championship for sprinters, Scheldeprijs was won by Philipsen back in 2021 and the Belgian capitalised on his superiority to edge out Sam Welsford (dsm-firmenich) and Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) this time around.

By now establishing himself as the sprinter to beat in 2023, Philipsen revealed himself as so much more than this at Paris-Roubaix four days later.

Known as 'the Hell of the North' Paris-Roubaix is not a race that a hegemonic sprinter such as Cavendish could have won back in his heyday, for example, but Philipsen is a remarkable all-rounder and showed as much in Alpecin-Deceuninck's greatest day to date.

Beginning the race with Van der Poel as their leader and possibly the race favourite, Alpecin-Deceuninck could not have dreamed of the scenario which played out on the cobbles of Northern France, in which the Dutchman soloed to a third Monument title and a determined Philipsen edged out Van Aert for second place behind.

It was a performance that will be remembered for decades to come and saw Alpecin-Deceuninck come of age as a team for the Spring Classics. Admittedly, Van der Poel had won the Tour of Flanders twice in the past, but the manner of this victory was different and contrasted poetically with the demise of fellow Belgian WorldTeam Soudal Quick-Step, whose highest-placed rider was former Alpecin-Deceuninck man Tim Merlier in 23rd.

Buoyed by an exceptional Spring Classics campaign, the team continued to pick up wins throughout May and June, with Groves' stage win at the Giro d'Italia a highlight, but the next big target on their calendar was the Tour de France. Carrying on from where they left at Tirreno-Adriatico, the Van der Poel-Philipsen double act came up trumps to deliver the team their best Grand Tour to date.

This was the moment Philipsen crowned himself as the world's best sprinter. With Van der Poel's exquisite lead-outs to win four stages of the Tour and the green jersey to boot, he was simply imperious for most of the race. The only tinge of regret will come from a missed shot on the Champs-Élysées on stage 21 where he was bested, only slightly, by a flying Jordi Meeus (Bora Hansgrohe).

Van der Poel's transition to lead-out extraordinaire was a nice, unexpected surprise this season, but did serve to mask his own inability to win a Grand Tour stage. That shortcoming was soon forgotten in August, however, when the Dutchman won the World Championship Road Race in Glasgow. The victory may not have come in Alpecin-Deceuninck colours, but the team's help was no doubt invaluable and he would line up in the rainbow bands to win the Super 8 Classic in September.

The Spring Classics and the Tour de France were the two highlights of the season for Alpecin-Deceuninck, but the Vuelta a España and Philipsen's continued dominance rounded off a tremendous season for the team.

At the Vuelta, Groves made the most of a poor sprinting field to win three stages and the green jersey. His transfer from Jayco-AlUla has gone down a treat for the Belgian team and, paired alongside Philipsen, offers Alpecin-Deceuninck handy versality across the three Grand Tours.

As for his fellow sprinter, Philipsen ended the season with an almighty 19 victories, including 8 from his final 14 race days. Suffice to say, he ends the season as the best sprinter in the world.

GCN's rating: 9/10

For the budget they have and as their first season on the WorldTour, it is hard to see many ways in which Alpecin-Deceuninck could have enjoyed a better season. Sure, Mathieu van der Poel will hope to win a Grand Tour stage or two in 2024, but his Monument victories - alongside the wins picked up by Jasper Philipsen and Kaden Groves - make this campaign a resounding success.

Ins & Outs

There is a small changing of the guard at Alpecin-Deceuninck over the off-season, with Grand Tour stage winners Kristian Sbaragli and Stefano Oldani leaving for Corratec-Selle Italia and Cofidis, respectively.

Read more: Pro cycling transfers – every move for the 2024 season

Fellow mature riders Jakub Mareczko, Alexander Krieger and Lionel Taminiaux are also on their way out, whilst doubts remain over the contract status of Dries De Bondt and Robert Stannard. The latter was suspended for a doping violation earlier in the year and is unlikely to return, whilst we would expect to see De Bondt, a former Belgian national champion, offered a new deal.

In return, all eyes point to the future with a quartet of riders coming from the Alpecin-Deceuninck Development Team. That is not to mention the signings of Lars Woven, from Jumbo-Visma Development Team, Juri Hollmann, a 24-year-old rouleur from Movistar, and Stan Van Tricht, a 24-year-old one-day specialist from Soudal Quick-Step.

Of those, it is probably Van Tricht who appears the most promising, having taken a plethora of podium placings at one-day races over the past few seasons without quite clinching his first pro victory. He beat Pim Ronhaar to a national race win back in May of this year, in a field that also contained former Alpecin-Deceuninck man David van der Poel, and incoming signing from the development team, Timo Kielich.

Kielich won a stage of the Tour de Wallonie this season when riding as a stagaire for the WorldTeam, and has shown his engine at the UCI Gravel World Series to win the Gravel Fondo Limburg. He can be expected to kick on in 2024, as can fellow new recruit Henri Uhlig, who won a stage of the Baltic Chain Tour this season and finished second overall.

Rounding out the quartet of incomings from the development team are the Italian Luca Vergallito and the current U23 men's world champion, Axel Laurance. The latter's pedigree goes without saying following his astonishing solo victory at the World Championships in Glasgow this year, whilst the former is the 2022 winner of the Zwift Academy and his perseverance has finally landed him a ride in the WorldTour at the age of 26.

Where Alpecin-Deceuninck's wins will come in 2024

It goes without saying that Mathieu van der Poel, Jasper Philipsen and Kaden Groves should be expected to win an array of WorldTour races in 2024. Whether it be in the Monuments with world champion Van der Poel, Grand Tour stages through Groves, or a mixture of both from the ever-reliable Philipsen, it would take a great disappointment for these three not to shine once more.

Read more: Jasper Philipsen: I can rival Wout van Aert for every Tour de France green jersey

Away from the terrific trio, Alpecin-Deceuninck will be hoping that Søren Kragh Andersen reforms even a glimmer of the form that saw him win two stages of the Tour de France in 2020, whilst the likes of Quinten Hermans, Nicola Conci and Gianni Vermeersch can be expected to contest for the odd victory from time to time.

With two Grand Tour stage winners out the door, however, a keen eye should be kept on the four new incomings from the Alpecin-Deceuninck Development Team. In their second year as a WorldTeam, the Belgian outfit will be looking to continue padding out their list of winners.

Alpecin-Deceuninck's next breakout rider

This one provokes a tough choice between Luca Vergallito and Axel Laurance. There is a lot to be said about Vergallito's persistence to win the Zwift Academy and take this unusual route to the professional ranks, whilst his supreme climbing legs were proven in winning Oberösterreich Rundfahrt earlier this year.

Read more: Pro indoor training tips from Zwift Academy winner Alex Bogna

That being said, Vergallito is 26 years of age and thus questions marked can be asked as to whether or not he has reached his ceiling as a rider. On the other hand, Laurance is somewhat the young rider of the moment at the age of 22 and rode tremendously well at the Veneto Classic last month to finish in the top 10 behind the likes of Davide Formolo and Marc Hirschi (both UAE Team Emirates).

He may not be able to wear the U23 rainbow bands for Alpecin-Deceuninck next season, but we fancy the world champion to show himself towards the front of races as he begins to become accustomed to the WorldTour in 2024.

How impressed have you been with Alpecin-Deceuninck's rise over the past few seasons? And do you now think they can lay claim on being the best Belgian WorldTeam in the Spring Classics, ahead of Soudal Quick-Step? Let us know in the comments!

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