BREAKDOWN: Battle of the Belgians!

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Belgian Breakdown: Could Alpecin-Fenix Supplant Deceuninck – Quick-Step As the Top Belgian Team? Recent developments suggest Alpecin-Fenix could take Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Belgian cycling crown in the near future.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

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The Quick-Step/Alpecin battle

On the surface, this headline is an absurd question. For years, the Belgian powerhouse team Deceuninck – Quick-Step has been the undisputed top team in the best cycling country in the world and just wrapped up their sixth straight 1st place position in the end-of-season PCS points tally. Their greatness and consistency are undeniable.

Meanwhile, Alpecin-Fenix is a second-division (ProTeam) with one major star, Mathieu van der Poel, just got their first-ever Tour de France start this past season and relies on wildcard invitations to get into the sport’s biggest races.

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Deceuninck off to Alpecin

However, the recent announcement that DQS’ title sponsor Deceuninck will be leaving to sponsor Alpecin-Fenix on January 1st, and the smaller teams’ furious rise through the ranks, begs the question if they could one day actually topple DQS as Belgium’s, and even the sport’s, top team.

Since the sporting collapse of their cross-country rival Lotto Soudal, there hasn’t been any real rivalry between the country’s pro teams. However, the strange story of their current title sponsor Deceuninck heading over to the second-division Belgian team Alpecin-Fenix for the coming season, along with DQS’ slight talent drain, could show the first real signs that the battle for the top Belgian team is officially back on.

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Lotto Soudal – Not the team they used to be

We will be breaking down how Alpecin’s unique business model and DQS’ team boss Patrick Lefevere dedication to antagonizing nearly everyone and his anti-feminist stances, caused Deceuninck to jump ship in next week’s The Outer Line newsletter, but today, I wanted to dive into the sporting implications of this interesting power shift.

2021 PCS Team Top Ten Rankings

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Year Over Year PCS Ranking Change
Deceuninck – Quick-Step

2021-1st
2020-1st
2019-1st
2018-1st
2017-1st
2016-1st

Alpecin-Fenix
2021-7th
2020-16th
2019-21st
2018-64th
2017-58th
2016-167th

Alpecin’s rapid rise since 2016 is absurdly impressive, and along with their status in the sport’s second-division, has allowed them to somewhat sneak up on their bigger rivals. But while they might not technically be a top-flight squad, at least according to the sport’s governing body, they have one Mathieu van der Poel, one of the sport’s best riders, under contract.

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Christoph and Philip Roodhooft getting their Kristallen Fiets award

When we step back, this simple fact is somewhat shocking since Alpecin’s budget, which the team owners, the Roodhooft brothers, have stated to be under €10 million per year, is a fraction of DQS’ total payroll. But, Alpecin’s perceived weakness, their second-division (aka ProTeam) status is also one of their strengths. It basically allows them to avoid spreading themselves too thin since they aren’t contractually obliged to compete in every WorldTour race, and instead rely on wildcard invitations. This keeps their costs low since they can run a leaner operation due to the lighter race schedule (which lets them ‘sell’ sponsorship at much lower rates than WT teams), and allows their superstar Van der Poel the freedom to chase his off-road pursuits. Additionally, their history as a cyclo-cross team has given them a direct line to up-and-coming Belgian crossover talents like Van der Poel and Tim Merlier, who in years past, would likely have landed in DQS’ classics juggernaut.

Alpecin-Fenix Win Profile 2009-2021

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Just like DQS, Alpecin, as shown by their win profile above, is hyper-focused on one-day classics and stage wins. This focus has assisted in the team’s rapid rise, and the physical size of most of their team makes them non-competitive on every hilly-to-mountainous course. While this limits their total number of winnable races, it is a shrewd strategy since chasing the dragon of GC success can cause strong teams to underperform year after year (see: Trek-Segafredo), but Alpecin proved at this year’s Vuelta a Espana that they aren’t just a one-trick pony. The Australian rider Jay Vine, who the team discovered on the digital racing platform Zwift, proved to be a viable challenger on climbing stages. The Vuelta Vine performances was a great case study for how the team’s ability to recruit and find talent that others have overlooked (For example, BikeExchange whiffed on Vine despite him racing right in their backyard), and combined with the fact that they were one of only four teams to win stages in all three grand tours, despite the fact that Van der Poel only raced the Tour de France, should warn other top teams that this is no longer simply a singularly-focused one-man-band.

Alpecin-Fenix 2021 Roster Breakdown

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Deceuninck – QuickStep 2021 Roster Breakdown

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Looking at the PCS point breakdown from both teams’ 2021 rosters, what immediately sticks out is just how many riders on each team improved in 2021 relative to 2020 (19 riders for each team). However, while both teams experienced improvement, Alpecin only had eight riders lose ground over the past 12 months, while DQS had 12 take a step back. Also, we can see just how significant the loss of João Almeida, their second-highest point earner, will be, and just how much the 36-year-old Mark Cavendish drove their results.

None of this points to DQS being in imminent danger of a collapse in 2022. They have two-time World Champion Julian Alaphilippe and defending Tour of Flanders winner Kasper Asgreen under contract, and still possess the most efficient one-day winning organization in the sport. However, the quietly growing force within their own country, along with Jumbo-Visma and Wout van Aert lurking close by, should give them cause for concern and tell them they no longer have a monopoly on the region’s top one-day riders.

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The Van der Poel effect

A second-division team ‘winning’ the season-long points competition would be fantastic to watch from a pure entertainment perspective, but would also show the absurdity of the current professional cycling structure and how worthless a UCI WorldTour license can be. And to give us a rough preview of this looming battle, I will be including Alpecin when January’s BTP NET Preview series kicks off.

While Alpecin actually overtaking DQS in 2022 is an unlikely outcome, things could get dicey for DQS if Fabio Jakobsen in the sprints and the team’s young core like Remco Evenepoel struggle with consistency. And without the lure of the Olympic Mountain bike race, Alpecin-Fenix will most likely be getting a more road-focused Van der Poel, who could rack up a truly stunning number of wins and UCI/PCS points in the right form. But whatever happens, it will be incredibly interesting to see if Alpecin can come close to knocking DQS off their top spot in 2022.

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Will Evenepoel be a bit more consistent


# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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