A legendary rider such as Johan Museeuw, a talent looking (one more time) for redemption such as Franck Vandenbroucke. A promising youngster wishing to repeat, or even better, last year's performances such as surprising (in every sense) Tom Boonen. This is Quick-Step Davitamon, the "new" team that could take over the status of best Classics squad and fill the gap left by Mapei, after the powerhouse this new Quickstep partially "comes" from pulled out of cycling at the end of 2002.
Is Quickstep just this ? No, folks. Quickstep-Davitamon is more, much more. With all the fuss about the young Belgian eager to join the strongest Belgian riders in a Belgian team mainly focused on Belgian Classics, the strong "foreign legion" in Patrick Lefevere's crew wasn't too much on spotlight. But you'd better take them into consideration, and in particular their main character, Italy's Paolo Bettini.
Tour de Suisse 2001.
The 28-year-old Tuscan (from ... La California, in the Livorno province) comes from a stunning 2002, when he got an impressive series of wins, the main one being the World Cup Overall Title, as he defeated no less than the same Museeuw at the end of a close battle which lasted from April to October. A well-deserved triumph for the Italian, the most important so far in the man's career. But now it's time to look at the future, at the 2003 season, when he'll be racing along with some of the best one-day races specialists, including the two last Paris-Roubaix winners, Museeuw (again) and Knaven.
Riders that, as Bettini himself told in an interview to Italian paper "Gazzetta dello Sport" have impressed him in recent days, during the team's first get-together in France. "I was looking at them riding, and I thought: well, if we act like a true team, with these guys we can beat everyone. If we work well in the Classics, il will be hard for opposition to match us".
And with similar teammates it's not difficult for a rider to think big. But what more can a man coming from a magnificent season ask for ? Well, plenty of things. A man can try to turn the vertical stripes featuring the World Cup Winner's jersey into the horizontal ones of the World Champion's. Even more as the Hamilton course seems to be particularly appropriate for his skills, and "Il Grillo" ("The Cricket") might have the chance to take revenge on Oscar Freire, after the Spaniard denied him the Gold in 2001."Winning the Worlds would be great. I talked many a time with Franco (Italy's national coach Ballerini) after he inspected the route, and he explained me how the course is. You will have to be in good condition and try not to make any mistakes during the race. But it's a bit too early to talk about it now".
Zurich 2002. Cyclingpictures.de
Too early, that's true. Before the Road World Title, there are many other things a man can ask for. A man can ask to win an important Classic which is not (yet) part of his palmares, a Classic going under the name of Milan-San Remo. A Classic that "could make a rider happy in any moment of his career. So you can guess how pleasant it would be for me to take the race with the World Cup winner jersey on my shoulders. It would also be a confirmation of last year's performances. When you reach a good level, you have to give it all to stay at the same point"
In the past two editions of the Classica di Primavera, the "Californian" was particularly active on the Poggio ascent, but both times his efforts proved fruitless, and the race came down to a bunch sprint, with no chances for him. Time to try different tactics ? "Nope. I think I could win MSR even in a sprint. It's true that in past editions great sprinters, much faster than me, clinched victory. But it's not cast in stone that things must always go that way. There are other factors, wind, rain or anything similar, that could affect the final outcome".
Could one of those factors also be a major collaboration amongst riders wishing to prevent a bunch sprint ? "Definitely. But you have to take race dynamics into consideration. It's not a secret that in the last MSR there was a kind of agreement with Di Luca and Figueras, a pact among us three, aimed at making the race harder. But Di Luca was unlucky and crashed halfway through the race, along with Dekker. And even the Dutch rider was one of those not so eager to finish in a bunch sprint. With both of them still in the race, things could have changed. Cipollini was a well-deserved winner, he didn't steal the race to anyone. But, you know, without that crash, and with Di Luca, Dekker and their respective teams working on the Poggio, more people would have been ready to give battle, even though maybe things wouldn't have changed. But perhaps next year we'll have a different "race movie", who knows".
Zurich 2002. Cyclingpictures.de
More praises for his teammates. "Some of our one-day racers are second to none. I know it shouldn't be up to me to tell, but I can't see any squad better than Quickstep in this kind of competitions. Also because I'm sure that we'll be able to work well together, without the danger of rivalries. Take Museeuw. I've raced with him for the years at Mapei, I don't know whether he'll retire after the Spring Classics, but I do know that he will not start with the aim to steal me the World Cup, even if I beat him last year". As for Boonen "I don't know him well. But rides like his last Paris-Roubaix speak by themselves. He's young and strong, he will play a fundamental role in the competitions where he'll be able to place highly".
According to Bettini's words, riding in a foreign team wouldn't be that much of a problem to him, perhaps also due to the presence of several riders, sport directors (Lefevere, Peeters, Italy's Serge Parsani), mechanicians and even soigneurs coming all the way from Mapei. The man sounds like he's really at ease at Quick-Step. With one regret though: his possibilties to race the Giro are close to nothing "
I have been racing for six years,but so far I haven't won any Giro stage. I'd like to fill this blank space before the end of my career, and even have a go to try and win the overall. You just need the right preparation".
The last words are concerning Bettini's winter training and first outings of the season. "My build-up for 2003 will be more or less the same as the past year. Twelve months ago I couldn't train for a few days, such that in January I thought I was late. But when I started racing I realized my form was good. This time I don't want to face similar hitches anyway. I will make my debut at GP Donoratico in Tuscany. A"home race" for me: my family and fans are looking forward to see me competing with the World Cup Winner's jersey on my shoulders".
Paolo Bettini - Palmares
2002 (Mapei-Quick Step - 11 wins)
Stage 3, 4 and Overall - Giro della Riviera Ligure di Ponente
Stage 2 Tirreno - Adriatico (Frosinone)
Liége-Bastogne-Liége (World Cup)
WORLD CUP - OVERALL CLASSIFICATION
Stage 3 - Giro della Provincia di Lucca (Forte dei Marmi)
Giro del Lazio
Stage 1 (Seraing) and Overall - Tour Regione Wallonne
2001 (Mapei-Quick Step - 5 wins)
Stage 4 - Giro della Provincia di Lucca (Marina di Pietrasanta)
Meisterschaft von Zürich (World Cup)
Stage 3 and 4 - Tour of Langkawi
2000 (Mapei-Quick Step - 7 wins)
Memorial Cecchi Gori
Stage 9 - Tour de France (Dax)
Liége-Bastogne-Liége (World Cup)
2 Stages and Overall - Montecatini-Gaggio Montano
Stage 4 - Challenge Maiorca
1999 (Mapei-Quick Step - 5 wins)
Overall Giro della Provincia di Lucca
1 Stage and (Viareggio) and Overall- Giro Provincia Lucca
1 Stage Volta a Galicia (Ourense)
1 Stage Memorial Cecchi Gori (Rome)
1 Stage Tirreno-Adriatico (Paglieta)
1998 (ASICS-CGA - 1 win)
1 Stage Tour de Romandie (Lausanne)
1997 (M.G.TECHNOGYM - no wins)
Team Quick Step-Davitamon 2003 - Roster
Johan Museeuw (Bel);
Franck Vandenbroucke (Bel);
Kevin Hulsmans (Bel);
Tom Boonen (Bel);
Piotr Wadecki (Pol);
Andrey Kasheckin (Kaz);
Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun);
Aurélien Clerc (Swi);
David Cañada Garcia (Spa);
Pedro Horillo Muñoz (Spa);
Wilfried Cretskens (Bel);
Bram Tankink (Hol);
Kurt Van de Wouver (Bel);
Servais Knaven (Hol);
Richard Virenque (Fra);
Frédéric Amorison (Fra);
Paolo Bettini (Ita);
Domenico Passuello (Ita);
Davide Bramati (Ita);
Luca Paolini (Ita);
Michael Rogers (Aus);
Patrick Sinkewitz (Ger);
Sven Van Thourenhout (Bel);
Nick Nuyens (Bel);
Jurgen Van Goolen (Bel)