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Brian Holm: Cavendish, Kwiatkowski and the young riders coming from behind

Etixx-Quick Step is ready to begin a new season, which the team hopes to be even better than the 2014 one, when it racked up 58 wins, 20 of which came in World Tour races. First appointment of the Belgian team will be the Tour de San Luis, in Argentina, where Etixx will send a squad spearheaded by Mark Cavendish and world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, two riders surrounded by huge expectations: the Manxman has to prove that he’s still got it in the sprint and can come back at the top, while the young Pole will be watched with an even higher degree of interest than in the past, now that he has the rainbow jersey.

But 2015 it’s not going to be only about Cavendish and Kwiatkowski, as Etixx-Quick Step has a wider range of riders who will try to emulate last year’s results and keep the team amongst the best in the world. Sport director Brian Holm made some time recently for Cafe Roubaix to talk of the team’s stars, but also of the young riders, who make for an important part of Etixx’s core.

– Mister Holm, this year will be Michal Kwiatkowski’s first season in the rainbow jersey. On what races should he focus?

It will probably be more or less the same like last year. Wherever he will go, he can compete for the win. I’m curious to see him in the Classics and also in the Tour de France. He’s a very good rider, one of his best of his generation and has many years ahead of him to show what he can do. He has a very good form since the start of the season, his bottom level is very high, he’s very serious about the sport and he knows things will be different for him now. Everybody can ride with the national jersey, but having the rainbow jersey changes things, he will be watched and challenged by more riders now. When he’ll win, when he’ll lose or when he’ll crash, one thing will certain: everything will be bigger now for him.

– Will he work on improving his skills on longer climbs?

No, it’s not a priority at the moment. First of all, we want to see him in the Classics, to see how things will go there and then we’ll focus on the Grand Tours. We want to take things step by step.

– This season will be an important one also for Mark Cavendish. Is he capable of regaining his crown as the world’s best sprinter?

Well, I certainly hope so. Last year was still a pretty good one, inspite of the big blow that came in the first stage of the Tour de France. He has to keep his head high and win his races. André Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff will be there, he will lose some races against these guys, but I’m also sure he is going to beat them. Mark missed some luck in 2014, nobody knows what would have happened if not for that crash, but that’s cycling. He’s very motivated and ready, we could already see that in the training camp, and I think it’s for the first time I’ve seen him so skinny before the start of the season.

– Let’s shift towards the Classics team, which will be led once again by Tom Boonen. Giving his age (ed. 34-years-old), will 2015 be his last chance to win a Monument?

If Tom wants to ride for 6-7 more years, I think he’ll always be one of the favourites. He will always have it, he has class and he’ll always be capable to go for the win, especially in Paris-Roubaix. There are many young riders coming from behind, but Boonen and Cancellara will still be the there, as one of the favourites, even though not so big as in the past. Our Classics team is an excellent one; besides Tom we have 4-5 good riders who can make it: Stijn Vandenbergh, who did an amazing job last year, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, and even Nikolas Maes. Our squad has a lot of depth, we had 18-19 riders who won a race last year, while the rest of the teams had 10 riders. Even with HTC, we had 15 or 16 riders winning in a season. You could see the depth of the squad in the Tour de France: when Cavendish had to abandon, everybody declared us dead, and what happened? We won three stages.

– And many young riders are coming from behind, one of which is Julian Alaphilippe.

He is a cyclist who can be huge in the future. At the moment, it’s hard to say how far he’ll make it and if he’ll be a Classics rider. Julian can climb good, will probably not win the Tour de France, but will do some big things. He’s the type of Laurent Jalabert, can do most of the races, has excellent skills and is really fantastic, so it will be very exciting to follow him. We should not forget that he’s not the only talented youngster Etixx-Quick Step has. Last year, Petr Vakoč was surprinsingly good and he’s very strong. Same goes for Lukasz Wisniowski, Michal Kwiatkowski told us he was impressed by what he showed in the trainings. For these young riders it will be very important to not do very tough races from the beginning, so that they don’t get burned out. We have excellent trainers and they always think of a very good program for the young cyclists, which will also be the case now.

– How important will the GC be for the team in this season?

In the past, we were too short on the climbs, we didn’t have too many climbers, but now things have changed. We signed Maxime Bouet and David de la Cruz, so they will provide some strong support to Rigoberto Uran. There’s also Pieter Serry and we hope that all these riders will change things for us, so we expect some nice results in stage races.

– Who can be the revelation of the team?

We have many good riders, but if I am to pick a cyclist who can do things differently, than that would be Julian Alaphilippe. He is still learning, but he’s more stronger, can get to the final in tough and selective races, and has the potential and characteristics of becoming a monster in the future. He is still young and impulsive, so he needs more patience and to stay calm, and I’m sure he’ll be there sooner or later and make a name for himself.

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