Soudal Quick-Step ‘have to be lucky’ in Tour of Flanders, says Tom Steels

The Belgian sports director reflects on the team's spring so far and what it will take for them to get over the hump on Sunday

Clock22:02, Saturday 30th March 2024
Toms Steels helps Julian Alaphilippe re-enter the race at Omloop this February

© Getty Images

Toms Steels helps Julian Alaphilippe re-enter the race at Omloop this February

Amid a disappointing Spring Classics campaign, few are backing Soudal Quick-Step to win the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. Still, the team isn’t willing to throw the towel in just yet with sports director Tom Steels hinting at a surprising early phase of the race that could see major attacks aimed at dislodging runaway favourite, Mathieu van der Poel.

The Belgian squad, once the dominant force of the cobbles, has flatlined in recent years, often relying on Remco Evenepoel to descend from altitude to resurrect their spring with an Ardennes assault. That might happen again this year but in Flanders and in next week’s Paris-Roubaix, the squad have two more chances to salvage their reputation as a team for the cobbles.

Julian Alaphilippe and former winner Kasper Asgreen will lead the line in De Ronde and Tom Steels believes that the right combination of tactics and luck will be required.

“I think that we have to be a little bit open-minded,” The Belgian told GCN in Antwerp on Saturday following a race briefing with other directors.

“The race will be quite surprising because the real leadership of teams isn’t there. Except for maybe one team,” he said concerning Van der Poel and his Alpecin-Deceuninck squad.

“For the rest, I think that a lot of teams will anticipate. It can be a strange race on Sunday. It’s quite open and the legs will speak on this course. At a certain point in Flanders, your legs do the talking and you either have the power or you don’t. Then it’s less about control but early in the race can be strange, and it depends on when the break goes and how much you can control the move.”

Read more: Mathieu van der Poel – ‘I prefer to race with all the top riders’ says Tour of Flanders favourite

Anticipating a Van der Poel attack is easier said than done. He can attack from 30, 40 or 50km out and still survive to the finish. Only Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) can match or better that level and he’s not defending his Flanders crown.

"We saw in E3 that when he’s on a good day Van der Poel can go from far, so it’s hard to catch him. He’s the best of the pack so you have to find a way to anticipate ahead of him because from a certain point, he will be very difficult to beat. I don’t think we’re the only ones you think like this but if he wins the race then chapeau. He’s also unpredictable too, so he can win in certain other ways too,” Steels said.

“I think that we have to be lucky. We are not at our best but it can turn. It’s a long race, it’s almost 280km with a neutral section. That’s quite a lot and sometimes riders come into a race that you don’t expect. So let's see. It’s good weather, that also favours Julian.”

Where Soudal Quick-Step go from here after the current spring campaign remains to be seen. They have aligned so much of their investment in ‘Project Evenepoel’ and their Grand Tour structure that rowing back on that decision would be incomprehensible until the end of 2026, at least. They have a batch of riders out of contract at the end of the season, including Asgreen and Alaphilippe, and the Frenchman will likely move on.

Read more: Tom Boonen ‘doesn’t recognise’ Soudal Quick-Step amidst Classics drought

For the time being, the mission within the team is to keep focussed on the racing but Steels suggested that the future could hold changes within the roster and that younger riders might have their chances.

“We need to keep on fighting. We have very good youngsters. We’re still quite solid but I think we have the talent in our team to grow in the next couple of years. We are used to racing differently but we’ll see tomorrow, then next Wednesday and then at Paris-Roubaix,” he said.

When asked specifically if there could be roster changes, the Belgian replied: “We’ll see. We’ll do a round-up after Roubaix and then we’ll sit together and find a way to get back into the game.”

Related Content

Link to Jay Vine cleared to remove neck brace for first time since Basque Country crash
Jay Vine led the UAE Tour earlier in the year, before ceding the jersey on the final day

Jay Vine cleared to remove neck brace for first time since Basque Country crash

UAE Team Emirates climber suffered three spinal fractures at Itzulia Basque Country, but has been cleared for 'easy gentle outdoor rides'

Clock
Link to Chris Froome set for racing return this week having recovered from scaphoid fracture
Chris Froome has been recovering from a scaphoid fracture sustained in a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico

Chris Froome set for racing return this week having recovered from scaphoid fracture

The former Tour de France winner will make a return at the Mercan'Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes that starts on Wednesday

Clock
Link to Ecuador selects Jhonatan Narváez for Paris Olympics over defending champion Richard Carapaz
Jhonatan Narváez representing Ecuador at the World Championships

Ecuador selects Jhonatan Narváez for Paris Olympics over defending champion Richard Carapaz

Ineos Grenadiers rider will take the nation’s one spot, with Tokyo road race winner left at home

Clock
Link to The bonkers stats behind Tadej Pogačar's Giro d'Italia win - GCN Racing News Show
YouTube video undefined

The bonkers stats behind Tadej Pogačar's Giro d'Italia win - GCN Racing News Show

Dan Lloyd is back in the studio to reflect on Pogačar's history-making first Giro d'Italia victory, and round up the rest of the racing from the past week

Clock
Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox