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Racing for several years as one of the smaller teams on the world stage, needing invites to the Grand Tours and other top events and only turning WorldTour in 2013, the Giant Alpecin team confirmed its arrival at the top of the sport on Sunday when John Degenkolb won his second Monument of the season.
The squad has picked up four stages in the past two editions of the Tour de France, thanks to Marcel Kittel, but in winning Milan-San Remo and then Paris Roubaix, it has moved to a new level.
It’s not just a team of sprinters, but also now a squad that can challenge for the biggest single day events in the sport.
Iwan Spekenbrink has long played a pivotal role in the team and is currently the CEO of the German squad. He was understandably delighted with how things turned out on Sunday, congratulating Degenkolb and the riders at the centre of the Roubaix velodrome and beaming broadly.
He spoke to CyclingTips shortly after the finish and described himself as very excited about what had happened.
“This is unique,” he smiled. “For me, it is personal, but Paris-Roubaix is the most beautiful Classic of the year.
“I think they should stop organising Paris-Roubaix – no, no, it is a joke – but this is extreme. Or we should stop cycling, the team. This is once in a lifetime. This is once in a lifetime.”
Of course, Spekenbrink doesn’t seriously think the team should stop – the opposite, in fact – but the point was made; whatever the team does in the future, it will be hard to top what it has done thus far this season.
“There are five monuments in the year,” he elaborated. “To win one – I already said that maybe we never, ever win one again. So many teams never win a true monument, one of the five. So to win two in one season is unbelievable.”
“I guess he did a pretty good job….”
Koen de Kort was one of the riders backing Degenkolb in the race. He too was left beaming broadly at the result, and was one of several who embraced the winner shortly after they themselves arrived in the velodrome.
“This is great. This is the race, the race he has been dreaming of,” he told CyclingTips. “Obviously San Remo is an amazing achievement but this one is viewed all over the world. People love watching this race and we love doing this race. It is amazing to win this.”
De Kort said that he felt “really good” during the race, which was just as well; he had a lot to do. “I was up in the front – my role was to control and go with breaks that went just before the real final. And just try to keep John out of the wind, to keep bringing him to the front.
“Then it was up to him from basically Carrefour de l’Arbre. I guess he did a pretty good job of that….”
Like Spekenbrink, de Kort pointed to the Milan-San Remo success in explaining what the most recent result meant to the Giant-Alpecin squad.
“It is amazing. We won our first monument only a few weeks ago,” he said. “We win our second right here, right now. This means that the Classics season has been incredible for us.
“It is something to build on and look forward to in the other races that are still coming, but I think we are allowed to enjoy this one for a little while.”
Watching the reactions at the end, the genuine happiness the riders had for their team leader, the overall impression was of a tightly-knit squad.
Degenkolb underlined this in his post-race press conference, saying that he felt the recent results vindicated a questioned move he made several years ago.
“When I turned professional with HTC and HTC stopped, many people looked strangely at me when I decided to go to a second division team, Skil Shimano,” he explained, talking about the choice made prior to the 2012 season.
“But when I look back now, it was just the best decision I ever made.
“I went to a team which was just founded. We are really a bunch of guys who are friends all together and are sacrificing ourselves.
“This cobblestone doesn’t just belong to me, it is really an achievement of the whole team.”
Explosion of emotion at race finish
The squad will of course try to keep the momentum going, even if Degenkolb and some of the other Classics riders will now take a break form competition. Spekenbrink knows that the worst thing would be for the squad to become complacent, to sit back and to savour the success instead of trying to replicate it.
“I think it means that we are on the right track and I think people recognise that,” he said, talking about what the win meant for the future of Giant-Alpecin.
“Of course this is something that we can keep building on. Again, we did it with the same team. You saw how we rode – we were not a dominating team, but we really took a lot of benefit from team-work at the right moment, in the right moves, with the right timing and really together. The fact that you can win here is the result of team-work as well.
“It is nice and symbolic that we win here, the way we have gradually built the team with team work.”
The stakes were high for the team and while Degenkolb was on paper the fastest sprinter, Spekenbrink insisted that he didn’t take anything for granted.
“I never [thought he had it]…until he crossed the line. I mean, this is cycling,” he said. “This is 260 terrible kilometres. This is the worst. So you cannot say there is one moment that you win.
“But of course when he was coming on the velodrome with the six guys, I felt confident. But you never know in cycling. I felt confident, but I was relieved when he passed the line.”
He agreed that the feelings were particularly intense for him.
“All kinds of strange things happen inside you when it happens,” he revealed. “And I think it is good.
“When you don’t have passion for this, you should be immediately out of cycling. This is unique.”