Giro d'Italia: Sprint teams blast 'stupid' Alpecin-Deceuninck tactics

'By trying to flick the other teams they flicked themselves' says Quick-Step director after a late breakaway foiled the sprinters in Lucca

Clock17:15, Wednesday 8th May 2024
Alpecin-Deceuninck and Soudal Quick-Step stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia

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Alpecin-Deceuninck and Soudal Quick-Step stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia

The finish line of stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia was located just outside Lucca's walled old-town centre, and how Alpecin-Deceuninck must have wished to retreat behind the ramparts. After a day in which the sprint teams were foiled by an unlikely breakaway, Kaden Groves’ squad were on the receiving end of fire from all angles.

“Chapeau Alpecin, eh,” was the sarcastic barb from Lidl-Trek’s Edward Theuns, who clapped his hands together for added emphasis.

“I want to kick that car,” said Soudal Quick-Step director Iljo Keisse as an Alpecin-Deceuninck vehicle drove past.

On a day that a bunch sprint seemed the likeliest outcome, victory went the way of a four-man breakaway, formed 77km from the line, by a slender 11 seconds, and Alpecin-Deceuninck were widely considered the guilty part.

There were two climbs on the route from Liguria to Tuscany, the early Passo del Bracco and the 3km category-4 kicker inside the final 20km. Alpecin-Deceuninck attacked them both, in a bid to hurt and even drop rival sprinters, which they did manage, if only briefly. However, they also reduced their own firepower in the process, and late in the day they disappeared from the front as Lidl-Trek and Soudal Quick-Step led a panicked and ultimately futile chase.

“If it was not for them it would be a clear sprint day,” Theuns, teammate of stage 4 winner Jonathan Milan, told GCN, repeatedly using the word “special” to describe Alpecin-Deceuninck’s tactics.

“They maybe mis-estimated their effort. Good for them to try but this is the Giro d’Italia, everybody trained well, it’s not so easy to drop some guys from the wheel – not with 80km to the finish.”

Read more: Giro d’Italia: Kaden Groves points to 'help from motos' as breakaway survives on sprint stage

The key to the stage, as Theuns saw it, was the fact that in pulling so hard on the Passo del Bracco, the day’s relatively unthreatening early breakaway was caught, which opened the door for it to be replaced by a more threatening move later in the day.

“That fucked up everything a bit,” Theuns noted. “Then four guys go on this kind of parcours, and you know it will be hard. It’s a bit stupid.

"Even though Alpecin did their special tactics, they can be lucky that us and Quick-Step still pulled for a sprint. It was mostly up to us, then some teams were coming but then it was too late. It’s really a pity, it’s a missed opportunity.”

Quick-Step: They tried to flick us but they flicked themselves

Theuns was relatively restrained compared to Keisse, who spoke to the media outside a Quick-Step team bus that was awash with bafflement and exasperation at Alpecin-Deceuninck’s actions.

After giving that team car the eyes all the way past, Keisse, who’s the director of stage 3 winner Tim Merlier, very much sided with Lidl-Trek.

“What they did today was – and this is my opinion – just very very very stupid. What they did all day from the beginning, also in the end… They have a very good sprinter, they have proved that, but by trying to flick us and other teams they flicked themselves.

“They blew two of their own guys in the beginning on that climb, and also the guys who made a hard pace on that climb were tired afterwards. This is all logic. It’s not rocket science. Everybody has their own tactic and the right to do it, but today they not only messed it up for us but also much more for themselves, I’m afraid.”

Read more: Giro d’Italia: Analysing the sprinters – more exciting than the GC?

Keisse insisted his team took their full responsibility, and highlighted the alliance with Lidl-Trek, but while Alpecin-Deceuninck came in for the most scathing of criticism, he also spread the blame across other teams in what its a broad field of sprinters.

“We can’t blame ourselves. We started [pulling] from the beginning. We helped Tim over the climb, and when he came back we immediately started again. When the four guys went, we pulled. We did what we had to do.

“[It was] not only Alpecin. Every team that has a sprinter here... When four guys in a breakaway go to the line 10 seconds ahead of the bunch, they should have a good look in the mirror.”

As for Alpecin-Deceuninck, the team cut a very sheepish presence in Lucca. Groves offered up a vague defence at the finish line but the rest of the riders declined to speak to the media, and it took a good hour for a team director, Preben Van Hecke, to appear to offer the briefest of explanations.

He paid tribute to a strong breakaway but, if the sense of guilt wasn't already apparent enough from the team effectively hiding away, it became clearer still when he was asked if Lidl-Trek and Soudal Quick-Step were right.

“They are not… un-right.”

For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

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