Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team wasted no time getting into the action of the Pyrenees stages. Jan Bakelants and Michal Kwiatkowski finally entered a 21-rider escape group of Tour de France Stage 16 on Tuesday, which went away after about 75km. Kwiatkowski and OPQS worked tirelessly to make sure at least one rider made the day's escape group.
By 78.2km into the longest stage of the Tour, the big group had a 1'05" advantage. But the advantage eventually ballooned to more than 10 minutes. With 38.5km to go in the stage the gap of the 21 riders including Baki and Kwiato was as high as 12'39" But the breakaway broke apart on HC Port de Bales (11.7km, 7.7%) which had a summit at the 216km mark of 237.5 kilometers.
Kwiatkowski and Bakelants were unable to maintain contact while Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) eventually attacked what was left of the escape group to win the stage.Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was 2nd out of the group that he dropped. Vasili Kiryienka (Team Sky) was 3rd. Kwiatkowski finished 7th, just 36" back as he worked hard on the descent of the HC climb to try and catch back on. Bakelants finished 11th (+3'33").
Kwiatkowski moved up to 9th in the GC with his hard work.
OPQS looks next to 124.5km Stage 17. The distance is deceiving, as there are three consecutive Cat. 1 ascents and an HC summit finish.
"The whole team was in all of the early actions trying to make the breakaway," Kwiatkowski said. "We were very motivated for that. It was decided this morning that today was the biggest possibility for the breakaway. The GC guys could gain or lose time at the end, and we saw it. They lost it at the end, as it was not easy to control for 240 kilometers. We tried to take advantage of that. I was in three breakaways and I finally made it into the one that stuck. Thanks to Mark Renshaw who led me out to get there. We were like 12 riders at that point, Garmin-Sharp was trying to split the peloton at the time. Then Baki went across on the second climb of the day, the 4th category climb. From that moment it was much easier to be in the breakaway. Everyone worked well."
Kwiatkowski and Bakelants also had crucial support in the team car.
"We had Davide Bramati in the team car with Mark Cavendish," Kwiatkowski said. "Cav told me to try to smash it and win a stage. It was nice to have them in the car. Then on a HC climb of 12 kilometers for sure it would come down to simply the strongest guy winning, and I have to congratulate Rogers for being that guy today. I was trying to hang on there, but I just couldn't accelerate like they did. For the moment I'm not climbing the way I want to, but today it didn't matter. I set my own tempo until the top and I was trying to catch the front group on the last descent. I almost made it, but that's bike racing. They were pushing hard. Baki and I tried our best today and we have to be satisfied that we gave 100 percent. This is where I am discovering myself, in a long breakaway and a tough climb after a lot of kilometers. It's important experience I need and I still have high morale. As for tomorrow, it will be difficult for sure. We all can feel two weeks of the Tour in our legs, but the Pyrenees are very hard,. After 200 kilometers in the breakaway I will feel it in my own legs, but I will do my best and see where I can arrive."
"We had a big breakaway of 21 riders, the cooperation was good," Bakelants said. "It was clear the winner would come from that breakaway. Everyone did their share and as long as everyone does their job I don't mind doing my share of the work. In the end it would come down to the climb of Port de Bales. I missed the legs in a specific moment. At the beginning I felt good. I was on the wheel of Kiryienka. Who made a very strong rhythm. But I faded. It was a shame because I directly felt it would be over for me. I exploded completely. But, I know this is the way I can win races. I am good enough in the start to get into the good breakaways. But today was not the day for me to take advantage of that. I'm disappointed but know there can be more chances in the next days."
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team rider Mark Cavendish, who withdrew from the 2014 Tour de France due to a crash in Stage 1, visited his teammates during the second rest day on Monday. Cavendish was also present when the team announced it is secured until 2017, and will be named Etixx - Quick-Step starting in 2015.
"Now that I've been at home I realize how much I miss the OPQS guys and the Tour de France," Cavendish said. "It's been incredible watching them. I've watched some stages when my rehab and recovery didn't interfere and it's been really impressive, especially seeing them win the way they did with Matteo Trentin and Tony Martin. You can see the strength, the desire, and I still feel part of that even when I'm in my home watching them on the television. I'm super proud of them. We came here as a sprint team and to lose your sprinter in the first day, it can almost throw you into a situation of 'what to do now.' But all eight riders still racing the Tour are super strong. It's easy to see how they've got along without me there with them. I'm still part of the team when I'm not here, and to see them pull it off the way they have makes me so happy. As for me, I had to make sure I was on top of my recovery and my rehab first before I could spend a couple days with the guys. I want to get back to racing for Omega Pharma - Quick-Step as soon as physically possible, and my days are full doing everything I can to optimize that. Yesterday I went out with my bike on the road for the first time after the injury, but as of now I can't really say when I will be racing again. I will discuss it with the team in the next days. I just want to be here with my team right now and let them know how proud I am of they way they're conducting themselves at the Tour de France, the biggest race in the world and one I love dearly."
With the beautiful landscape of Chateau de Lastours in the background, OPQS proudly announced to the media on Monday, during the second Tour de France rest day, that the team secured its future through 2017 thanks to the extended commitment of owner Mr. Bakala, and also crucial support of our sponsors. Starting in 2015 the team will be named "Etixx - Quick-Step."
Etixx, the sports nutrition brand of Omega Pharma group, agreed to support the team as a main sponsor from the season 2015 through 2017. Quick-Step will continue as a main sponsor through 2015 with an option to extend.
Latexco continues its sponsorship for 2015, and Renson extends its support for two years through 2016, with an option for 2017.
"I don't need to hide it, besides the image and the impact of the team in cycling, the success and results of the team also helped convince the sponsors to go on," OPQS CEO Patrick Lefevere said. "So, this is the product of a winning team. It's a lot of work to gather all the pieces of a winning team, the riders and the staff. I'm really proud of the staff I work with every day to reach common goals. I take care of my sponsors and do my best with my team to keep them happy and performing. In this moment we are one of the most established teams in cycling. Thanks to the help of our owner Mr. Bakala and our sponsors, we can build toward even more success as our future is possible."
"Etixx is a Belgian brand and we've become a market leader there in just a few years," Omega Pharma CEO Marc Coucke said. "We now want to internationalize it through investing in a cycling team to promote the maturity of the brand, to launch it everywhere in the world. OPQS reacted at the Tour de France with their hearts. Every day they want to try to win, and by doing so they won two stages despite some bad luck. They will keep fighting for another win this last week. If you can do that, in these circumstances, you are a top team. This is a fantastic team to sponsor with. The culture that the team breeds and grows, the fighting spirit, it's so fantastic that you can't have a better team to partner with. We're glad the team can continue to three more years thanks to Mr. Bakala and the other partners. Thanks to this continuity, the riders will also feel a sense of security and we can really build in future years."
"For us, Etixx is the most important brand in our portfolio to have in this partnership," Omega Pharma Belgium General Manager Davy De Vlieger said. "It's a brand focused on sports nutrition and improving performance. A cycling team is a great vehicle for brand recognition internationally, so we are very happy. We committed until 2017. It's a long-term investment and we are happy to continue the partnership for three more years with this great team."
"Quick-Step is very happy today," Stijn Heytens, Quick-Step Marketing Director Unilin, said. "We can announce another partnership with this exciting team. We're very proud as a design flooring brand, Quick-Step, to continue with this exciting professional cycling team. We've spent 16 years with our name in the peloton. It's clear we think our brand in cycling is an important method of international brand recognition. We think this is a strong commitment to continue our relationship within the cycling world."
"The renewal of our sponsorship was an easy choice," Luc Maes of Latexco said. "Latexco considers sport sponsoring not only as an investment but also as a part of our corporate philosophy. The competitiveness, perseverance, team spirit and grinta that are all characteristics of the Omega Pharma – Quick Step Pro Cycling team, is also something that Latexco considers of paramount importance. Besides that, in this team I feel like I'm at home."
"Cycling remains a very popular sport, in Belgium as well as internationally," Paul Renson, CEO of Renson, said. "Through cycling we reach millions of people, along the tracks of the races and at home during live broadcasts. This is ideal for a company, that is well-known by the professionals in the construction sector, but also wants to invest more in getting a better name recognition with the consumer for its terrace coverings, wind-tight screens and ventilation systems. Our first seasons in cycling have confirmed that OPQS is a strong and ambitious partner with the drive to be a protagonist in every race. Moreover, cycling can be compared to business: the efforts of and the cooperation between the members in the chain determine the real strength of the team."
The extended sponsorship of the team was not the only good and important news of the press conference. OPQS rider Tony Martin, who has been one of the most exciting riders of the 2014 Tour de France, having won a stage solo and the Combativity Award two stages in a row, extended his contract for two more years.
"I've had almost three great years now with the team, with a lot of support," Martin said. "I gained a lot of new friends and I feel super comfortable. For me, there was no reason at all to change my team. I had a long talk with Patrick. We have chosen a lot of good goals for the future, goals we both want to reach. For example, it's no secret the 2016 Olympic Games are a big goal. For Patrick the 2015 Tour de France is maybe a step higher with a 13.7km opening time trial in Utrecht. We set other goals together, both team and individual. It will be hard work, but I know the team will give me the best support I can have. I'm looking forward to the next few years and maybe even longer."
"He was one of the leading riders of the team that was out of contract," Lefevere said. "It was a very active discussion that started with the Tour of Belgium. He wanted to stay, I wanted to keep him, and we found each other finally. Now this is team is part of his professional life. He's not only a super strong rider, but also a big motivator for the team. He always gives everything and is a great example for the young guys as as he's a great time trialist, but someone who works for his teammates without hesitation and with pleasure. The arrival of Tony raised the level of our team. We are happy that his future will be with us as he brings much to the table as a rider, and also as a person."
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team rider Mark Renshaw finished 5th in the 177km Stage 15 of Tour de France on Sunday. The Australian rider launched his sprint when two original breakaway riders were caught just meters before the line.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the stage, with Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) placing 2nd, and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) 3rd.
OPQS played a huge part in bringing the breakaway back. The gap was down to just 1'20" with 20.4km to go when Michal Kwiatkowski had a small gap, which forced a further acceleration of the peloton in order to chase him down and maintain control. The catch of the two breakaway riders Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) and Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) was by no means guaranteed, however, as it was pouring rain out on course and the peloton seemed to be slow to close the gap.
Tony Martin forced the field to chase again, going off the front with Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) at 4.3km to go. That move was brought back with the gap down to 30", and that is when Jan Bakelants counter attacked. OPQS was not finished, as Martin once again accelerated and, with the catch still in question, he kept driving the pace inside the final kilometer.
When Martin was finally brought back at 500 meters to go, it was up to the sprinters to try and catch Elmiger and Bauer as the gap was listed at 9 seconds. They finally did just before the line, with Renshaw one of the riders on the front launching the sprint that eventually passed them.
The Tour de France heads to the Pyrenees on Tuesday, after the rest day tomorrow. The longest stage of the Tour — 237.5km Stage 16 from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon — includes HC Port de Bales (11.7km at 7.7%) with the summit at km 216 of the stage. The stage descends into a flat finish.more information