With 2014 nearing its end, and 68 overall OPQS victories (64 road, 1 cyclocross, 3 track), it is time to recap the best 10 moments of the season. While it was difficult to pick just 10 out of a highly successful year, these moments certainly stood out and deserve special mention.
Our sixth best moment is the solo victory of Tony Martin in the 9th Stage of the Tour de France.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team rider Tony Martin, "King of the Chrono," won the first Tour de France road stage of his career at 170km Stage 9, from Gerardmer to Mulhouse. After escaping with Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), he dropped him on Category 1 Le Markstein (10.8km, 5.4%), and kept enough of a time gap on a chase group and the peloton to cross the finish line alone. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) was 2nd, and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) 3rd.
"It was a super nice situation for me compared to the time trial victories of my career," Martin said. "I could celebrate my victory in the last few kilometers, because the time to the breakaway was at three minutes. I knew I had the win and I could celebrate with the Sport Director and the Mechanic in the team car behind me. So, it was really incredible. Going into the finish, getting all the attention from all the media and the fans, it's just so big. It took a while to figure out what I did that day."
Martin also gained 18 KOM points on the six climbs of the stage, which put him in the Polka Dot Jersey (King of the Mountains). He even won the Most Combative Award for his outstanding effort.
"It was also nice because we were close to Germany, so there were a lot of German fans present as well," Martin said. "I knew before and I was super motivated. Just taking part in the Tour de France is a big honor and that is motivating enough. But when you are alone in front, and everyone is shouting to you and knows your name, it's special. You start to realize how prestigious and popular the Tour de France is then, and how big you have become because fans come just to see you. It's a nice feeling and a big impression for me"
The two riders went up the road with a 10 second gap just 17.5km into the stage, after the race regrouped from a previous attack. They cooperated well, gaining a big advantage as a result. Martin, three-time UCI World Time Trial Champion, never looked back and kept a good rhythm — and consistent effort — until the end of the stage.
"The decision of where I would attack the group was already made a few weeks before when I saw the stage profile," Martin said. "I knew this day is one of the chances where a breakaway could make it, where the profile is hard but not too hard, which suits my skills. The conditions were also not too hard. It was a big fight at the beginning of the stage, no real breakaway could make a good gap. But like it sometimes is, everyone was fighting on the climb. But at the top a big group was still together. Everyone was looking to each other. So, I thought OK, it's for me to go on the top, make a good descent in an aerodynamic position, and see how far I could go. Alessandro De Marchi went with me.
"It wasn't easy because there was always a group of riders behind me and De Marchi at about 30 seconds," Martin continued. "De Marchi asked me to wait for the break and I said no, I will go full gas ahead because I knew to win out of a big group means I have almost no chance. I'm not a sprinter and everyone knows my only chances to win are to attack and prevent a sprint. So I went with the best solution for me. He decided to still go with me on a 10 or 15km time trial kind of effort. There was at least 100km to go, but our first goal was to leave the break behind us. The gap was less than a minute for a while, so we always thought one or more riders would close the gap, but no one did. The gap got up to three minutes and that was when I was convinced we would make it. It was then up to me to find a way to distance De Marchi, which is not easy. But at that point I was so focused. I knew it was all or nothing and went for it full gas. I was so full of good energy that I almost didn't feel pain any more. I was in that good of a mood to think the stage win was mine. That day was my day to make something great happen."
Martin went into the final 12.5km with an 8'01" advantage on the peloton, 3'10" to a chase group of 17 riders, and 3'01" to two chasers including Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), who took over the yellow jersey with his aggression.
Inside the final kilometers Martin's advantage further increased, allowing him plenty of time to celebrate before crossing the line as a Tour de France stage winner.
Martin reflected on the overwhelming encouragement and congratulations he received from everyone after his big stage win at Le Tour. He received massive support from riders and fans.
"I know that a lot of fans really say that I deserved this win, but also the other riders and Sport Directors from my team and other teams," Martin said. "They really gave me big respect and were happy for me. It shows a lot of guys like me and my style of riding. I have to say it is flattering and I appreciate it. Everyone knows I work hard to be in good condition. I'm always fighting and working for my teammates. But I also think people remembered past races where I was really close to a victory but didn't make it. For example the stage of La Vuelta in 2013, when I also attacked solo but was caught 50 meters before the line. A lot people were sad for me that I didn't make it that day. On the 9th stage of Le Tour it was a little bit of payback. I think it paid more than everything back, really."
In 2015, Martin said teams will be looking for such an attack for him, but it doesn't mean he will not try.
"I think the way I won the stage shows I can try something similar in other races," Martin said. "I also saw the next day at Le Tour, when I was in front with Michal Kwiatkowski, even if the peloton is really chasing hard, I can still have the chance to make it. For sure they are even more aware of me than ever and won't just let me go, with gaps any bigger than three to five minutes. But I think there can still be opportunities. I really hope I can take the chance if it's there, because now I know I can make it to the finish and the reward is more than worth it."
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the whole team! Watch the video below for a video message with an international approach.
During the first training camp of 2015, in Oliva (Spain), Rigoberto Uran and Etixx - Quick-Step management made official the race program for the first part of his 2015 season.
The first race of 2015 for Rigo will be the Colombian National ITT Championship, as well as the National Road Championship on the 7th and the 8th of February.
"The time trial is on a parcours of 47 kilometers, which are up and down and in the East part of the Antioquia province," Uran said. "It's a nice parcours that I like a lot. The road race parcours will start in Medellin, and will start with a straight stretch and finish with a three-lap circuit of the same parcours of the time trial. I start with the ambition that I'd like to win the time trial, and do the best I can in the road race. It would be an honor to wear the Colombian champion jersey in the European races, and be like an ambassador of my country. But I know the competitors are strong. The level is growing a lot in the last years. So it won't be easy. But in any case it will be a great experience for me. I haven't rode in Colombia in years, since I've been racing in Europe. So it will be a great occasion for my fans to come and follow the race and support me live, and not on television like they have to do when I race in Europe."
The debut in Europe for the Colombian Etixx - Quick-Step rider will be in Classic Sud Ardeche. Uran will then race Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico. After the short Italian stage race, Rigo will race Volta ao Catalunya and then Tour de Romandie leading into the Giro d'Italia.
"I am really excited about my program and the races I have to do," Uran said. "We chose a different approach than last year. In 2014 I started my season in Tour of Oman. This year we decided to change my race calendar a bit. I plan on racing 'The Double' (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France). I will be racing two big grand tours, which changes my calendar needs a bit. About the Giro, I saw the parcours and I think I can do well. It is suited to my skills. There is also a long time trial. Everyone knows I work a lot on the time trial discipline in order to improve my performance. I think an approach similar to the one we had last year, such as reconnaissance and specific training, means I can do well again. In the past two years I was on the overall podium of the Giro, so of course my objective is to be there among the best, even this year. The Giro is a special race where anything can happen at any moment, but my goal is to be there and ready for the race no matter what can happen each day. I can count on a great team that now has one year more of experience in the big stage races. They know how to do it and they are even more motivated to do well there. I can also say that with Italy I have a great relationship. I have a lot of supporters there, for example in Gavardo (province of Brescia) I have a fan club that always follow me. They don't care if I win or lose. They are there for me regardless."
Uran will return, after three years, to the Tour de France following the Giro.
"I rode already the Tour de France in 2009 and 2011," Uran said. "In 2011 I wore the white jersey for six days. It was an unforgettable experience. I am really happy to come back to this race, one of the top races in the world. I know it is difficult to do the Giro and the Tour at a high level, but as you know I like to think about things race-by-race and I am able to focus on two different objectives during my season in this way. My approach will be different at the Tour than at the Giro. I will try to go there to do well, but it will be more linked to rediscovering the race and to stage hunt. But of course I'd also like to do well in the last week, and give a hand to the team when necessary. About my program after the Tour, it is not yet decided. I want to focus on the intense part of my season that will be a great opportunity for me. I can ride the races I love and I am super motivated to do it."
Etixx- Quick-Step Cycling Team has announced the selection that will participate in the Santos Tour Down Under, one of the first races to launch the 2015 road season. The stage race will take place from January 20th through the 25th of the month, following the 51km People's Choice Classic on January 18th. The parcours of the 2015 edition focuses on a more equal opportunity for sprinters, climbers, and all-rounders to do well.
"It's the first UCI WorldTour race of the year," Sport Director Rik Van Slycke said. "It's always important to be inspired for good racing as soon as the first stage begins. But the team will be extra motivated because our sponsor, Etixx Sports Nutrition, is launching their product in Australia, where this race is held. We have a good team for any situation — guys like Gianni Meersman and Mark Renshaw for example. Mark is also Australian, which brings a little extra motivation that can play a role in the sprints. He even won the Down Under Classic in 2007, and won the first stage of Tour Down Under in 2008. Meersman can also take advantage of specific kinds of sprints, such as in a small group. For the climbs we have David De La Cruz, Pieter Serry, and Maxime Bouet. Bouet did a good race last year, but crashed two days from the finish which prevented a top finish. We are sure they can arrive focused and ready to contribute on the climbs such as on Willunga Hill. Two riders who will compete the team are Martin Velits and Yves Lampaert, two strong riders for any kind of terrain. Lampaert, De La Cruz, and Bouet will be motivated to do well as they are making their debut with the team. With the challenge of the parcours also comes the possibility of the wind affecting the race, but with this kind of team we can be ready to do well in any kind of situation on each stage."
Etixx - Quick -Step Selection for Santos Tour Down Under
Maxime Bouet FRA
David De La Cruz ESP
Yves Lampaert BEL
Gianni Meersman BEL
Mark Renshaw AUS
Pieter Serry BEL
Martin Velits SVK
Etixx – Quick-Step is getting some rest today, after a successful six days of their first training camp for 2015 in Valencia (Spain). The riders and staff have been kept busy between off-bike photo shoots, strength & stability training, and of course training rides.
Etixx – Quick-Step trainer Koen Pelgrim said the area has proven to be the perfect training ground for the team.
"The quality of the roads is good here," Pelgrim said. "You can train on the flats, the climbs, and the types of climbs are also diverse. You have rolling climbs and steep climbs. The quality of the weather here is also good. The rest day was our first cloudy day in six days. This makes it a perfect place for training."
Training camp was also a perfect place to get the riders together for their off-bike training. This way, team physiotherapists and trainers could work with them directly to monitor technique and progress.
Some riders, for example, performed cycling ergometer lactate threshold tests with Pelgrim and staff of Bakala Academy.
"We did lactate threshold tests that we also did with the Belgian guys earlier at Bakala Academy," Pelgrim said. "We tested the other guys here at camp. We wanted to see the level of riders to determine the training zones for the rides we did at training camp, and also until we test them again around the time of our second training camp."
Bakala Academy Nutrition Specialists also met with the riders to discuss their individualized meal plans for the upcoming season. Furthermore, some of the riders performed strength & stability training a couple times directly following their training rides.
"It's been proven that doing strength training helps also endurance athletes," Pelgrim said. "That is something we always do in the preparation phase before at home. But we also try to continue it at training camp. That's why we brought it here and we did the program here, so they can continue it without missing anything."
Of course, a major component of training camp are the team rides. The kinds of efforts differed depending on the type of rider.
"We split the groups into three," Pelgrim said. "We had one group with the guys from Tour Down Under, as they need harder and more specific training to prepare them for earlier racing. Then we have the group that consists of the guys of the Belgian Classics and the sprinters. Then, of course, you have the climbers."
All of the riders still performed long distance rides as part of their training.
"Our longest ride until now was around 150 kilometers," Pelgrim said. "That was yesterday. Two days before we did between 100 and 120 kilometers depending on the group."
There are still several days left of camp, and there is plenty of work left to be done for the riders.
"Tomorrow a lot of rain is predicted so we will have to freestyle it a bit," Pelgrim said. "We will see what we can do that day if the rain is heavy. The day after there will be some hard training, interval training for Tour Down Under riders. For the Belgian Classics and sprinter group they will do some 200 meter sprints one-by-one. The third group, the climbers, will do some endurance training with strength training after. The last day we will have long rides for the climbers, an endurance ride and also some time on the time trial bike for the Belgian Classics and sprinter group, and the Tour Down Under group will do long training in the mountains. So, as you can see, there is still plenty left to do for our guys and each group will perform efforts specific to their needs."