Since 2003, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl have only finished outside the top-seven at Paris-Roubaix once. That freak result in 2011 aside, the Belgian super team have dominated The Hell of the North in the past two decades, winning six times, finishing runners-up four times, and coming third once.
However, 2022 feels different. The crown has slipped from the team's head, as other squads have looked better and have been more successful in the Spring Classics. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic are the only WorldTour cobbled Classics where the team has finished in the top ten this season, and that was in ninth and tenth respectively.
At the Tour of Flanders, their biggest race of the year, their best finisher was 23rd, their worst top result ever at the Belgian Monument.
Patrick Lefevere, the team's boss, is not satisfied with the situation. While the team has gone on winning elsewhere - it has 18 wins this season - its bread and butter of Belgian Classics victories has been missing.
"Of course, I'm not happy," he explained at a press conference on Thursday. "But I learned in my long career that you cannot change things in a week or in ten days. We will drink the glass to the bottom and see what it brings."
Two weeks on, and the team are hoping for a reset at Roubaix on Sunday, and Lefevere is hoping that the bad luck is at an end for the team that has been beset by illness and injury in 2022.
"We are here for the first time in a long time with seven riders," he said. "Who have no excuses anymore because they are injured or sick. I hope that Paris-Roubaix, for once, will bring us luck. Then we will see, but I repeat myself 100,000 times. I don't speak about bad results or good results before the end of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Roubaix is very specific.
"Maybe for us it's a good thing that because of the election in France it was a week later, it gives us the time to recover."
Thanks to the first round of the French presidential elections, Roubaix is a week later in the schedule than usual, having swapped with the Amstel Gold Race. This has given the cobbled specialists a week longer to hone their form after Roubaix.
Yves Lampaert, who was third at the race in 2019, thinks it will be a "fast race" on Sunday.
"Hopefully we do not have bad luck this time," he said. "And we have seven riders that are getting in good shape and we can all do a strong race, that I'm convinced, but let's hope to be in the final with as much as possible. The tactics are really difficult to say at Roubaix, it can happen at any place, but let's go for attack mode, not defence mode."
Asked what the difference is this year, as we have seen teams like Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers and Alpecin-Fenix look stronger in the Classics than Quick-Step, Lampaert argued that they have just been put on the back foot this season.
"The big difference is that we're stuck on the third, fourth line," he said. "That's mostly the place where a lot of bad luck is happening, we're not used to that, and we hope to take back our spot on the first line. I'm convinced that on Sunday that will happen. We cannot forget that we all have our problems... we try to be at 100% on Saturday."
Lefevere said that maybe other teams have copied Quick-Step's approach to the Classics, with Ineos in particular looking really strong recently.
"There are two possibilities," he said. "Maybe they learn a lot from us, or it was just a coincidence of bad luck and everything happening to us. I don't want to complain too much, other teams have had more or less the same problems. It's up to them to prove on Sunday that they can turn from the bad side to the good side."
On paper, the Quick-Step team is strong. Alongside Lampaert, there's Kasper Asgreen, the 2021 Tour of Flanders winner; Florian Sénéchal, who always looks good at Roubaix, and described it as his favourite race; Zdeněk Štybar who has twice finished second at Roubaix; and Davide Ballerini, who won Omloop last year.
However, it has simply not clicked this year. Lefevere says the team still has his confidence, despite its misfiring form.
"I still believe in the guys that are sitting here," the Belgian said. "It cannot be that everything has gone in the last six months or year. They have to take it in their own hands. If they are performing like they're paid for it, there's no problem. Why should I lose my confidence in three months? It is what it is, but still a lot of teams want to be in our place. We have 18 victories and 13 second places."
"We are not used to being in defence," he continued. "We are an aggressive team, and if we can use the tools we have 100%, we don't have to panic, we don't have to be too nervous. Roubaix is a very long race. Even if you have a flat tyre or a bad moment, the race is never over. The race is over on the track in Roubaix and not before."
It feels like it could be either a big turning point or a continuation of the disappointment for Quick-Step, and either way they are under pressure to deliver. Not that Lefevere minds who crosses the line first for the team.
"I don't care who the winner is unless he has a blue jersey."
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