Our goals are the monuments and a Tour stage! Interview with Alpecin-Fenix team manager Philip Roodhooft

Photo by Jimmy Bolcina / Photonews

Alpecin-Fenix’ team manager focuses on monuments, Tour de France, Olympic Games and road World Championships.In an interview with Alpecin Cycling, Alpecin-Fenix team manager Philip Roodhooft talks about his team’s goals for the 2021 season.

Philip Roodhooft, manager of the Alpecin-Fenix team, has his sights firmly set on monuments, the Tour de France, the Olympic Games and the road cycling World Championships. Alpecin Cycling talked to him about the 2021 season goals, about the additional wildcard for the GrandTours and his relationship with Deceuninck – Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere.

Together with his brother Christoph, Philip Roodhooft is in charge of team Alpecin-Fenix. Still a Conti team back in 2018, they are allowed to take part in all WorldTour races in 2021 due to their first place in the Europe Tour as the best ProConti team.

What are the big goals of Team Alpecin-Fenix in the 2021 season?

On the road we will aim for the sprint classics and we will try to win a Tour de France stage. To win one would be a great success. We will furthermore aim for the Olympic Games in mountain biking with Mathieu van der Poel. And we hope that we will also be successful in the road World Championships.

You’ll certainly want to be on top of the Europe Tour again at the end of the season, too, in order to be qualified for the WorldTour races in 2022 I assume?

Yes of course, that is like in football. If you are reigning national champion, you want to defend your title in order to play in the Champions League again the next year. The main goal, however, is to win races. The ranking, i.e., the score is composed of the race results. So that’s not really a goal for us. The only reason we wanted to win the Europe Tour last year was to have the opportunity to participate in all the races we wanted to start at. So, if we go into a bunch sprint, we want to win it and not score points with three riders in the top ten. We think about a lead-out beforehand and hope we can help our sprinter win the race. What do you think I would choose? On the one hand: winning a monument, a stage win in the Tour, 20th place in the team ranking; or on the other hand: tenth place in the ranking, but no big win.

Winning races, I guess?

Exactly, that’s what we race for: wins. Not to be high up in the rankings. If we do well in competitions, we automatically get the necessary points.

But the participation in the three big national tours and the fact that Mathieu van der Poel is going to the Olympic Games and will prepare for them in May and June does not conflict with this. Isn’t participating in so many races – your team sometimes rides three at a time – maybe also be a disadvantage in terms of ranking and earning points?

But the participation in the three big national tours and the fact that Mathieu van der Poel is going to the Olympic Games and will prepare for them in May and June does not conflict with this. Isn’t participating in so many races – your team sometimes rides three at a time – maybe also be a disadvantage in terms of ranking and earning points? Nobody knows what the calendar will look like in the upcoming months. It’s very difficult to make predictions but the fact that we have a jam-packed race calendar can be a disadvantage, of course. If, however, many races are cancelled, it may turn into an advantage. Ruta del Sol, Tour of Antalya and Tour of Valencia are already cancelled. Chances are, however, that we can ride some stage races – and thus have the chance to win and score points. It is certainly wrong to claim today that the packed race programme and the participation in all three big national tours are a disadvantage for us.
Photo by Stefan Rachow

Many experts believe that Mathieu van der Poel will win Paris-Roubaix. Do you think so too? Or do you rather see him in front at the Ronde?

We are not walking around in a candy shop where we can choose what races we want to win. We have to be realistic but if we have the chance to win one or two that would be amazing. I think it’s a little bit too much to state any preferences. Winning in cycling races is not like eating in an à la cart restaurant. It is difficult enough to be successful, we must not get greedy – or too picky. I honestly don’t know why Mathieu would be more of a favourite in Roubaix than in Flanders. The Ronde and Amstel – both races he won – certainly are very similar. Except for the fact that there are no cobble stone passages in the Amstel race. Roubaix is all flat, that’s a big difference. I think more riders have what it takes to win in Roubaix.

But it would be a dream come true …

Of course, it would be very nice if Mathieu van der Poel won on the track in Roubaix. Let’s wait and see. Again, we aim for a spring classic. We hope we’ll perform well. If you ask 19 world tour teams, 12 of them will say we aim for a spring classic – and certainly for a Tour de France stage, too. If not even more. But there are only 21 stages at Tour de France and already 19 WorldTeams. Some teams will win three or four stages. If you keep that in mind and take it into account, you’ll know how realistic it is after all to win a Tour de France stage. I think it’s important that we spread our goals all over the year and that we stay realistic when setting our goals. We won Amstel two years ago, we won Flanders last year, but that doesn’t mean we will continue to win the big classics. Deceuninck – Quick Step is a phantastic and a big team, but they haven’t won one single monument last year despite having always been successful in these races in previous years, this shows how difficult such an undertaking is.
Photo by Pieter-Jan Vanstockstraeten / PhotoNews

Speaking of Deceuninck – Quick-Step. You and your brother turned down an offer from their team manager and owner Patrick Lefevere a few years ago. Why?

We wanted to do it our own way. We took Patrick’s offer as a compliment, of course. We have a good relationship. But back then we wanted to continue with our team. And time has shown that it was the right decision. Only one year later we’d acquired two big sponsors: Alpecin and Fenix thanks to which we could take further steps. I think, if we’d worked together with Patrick Lefevere, it would have turned out well, too. You never know what would have been, if you had done things differently.

Would a merger between your team and Deceuninck – Quick-Step be a possibility when Patrick Lefevere retires at some point?

That’s a good question, but not one we are thinking about at the moment. Thanks to the good relationship with Patrick, anything is possible. Moving forward is only possible with a good network. It all starts with people and communication.

UCI permitted the organisers of the three big national tours award an additional wildcard respectively. Do you consider this fair with regard to your team, since worked hard to qualify for the races?

It would have been nice if they had done it last year as well. But generally, I think it’s a good thing for cycling. The third wildcard offers the opportunity to more ProConti teams to present themselves. Especially for the respective team sponsors it is extremely important to be visible at one of the Grand Tours. But I don’t hold any grudges. They simply created an extra slot. Whenever there are changes, you could complain that they are unfair to the previous participants. My dream scenario would be three different teams – and not one team getting invited to two Grand Tours by wildcard. What should be considered for the future, though, is how to deal with ProConti teams that don’t have their team headquarters in one of the Grand Tour home countries, e.g., a British, American or Russian team. They hardly ever have the chance to get a wildcard. Maybe in the future, the awarding of an additional invitationcshould be linked to such a condition.

The next big Italian one-day races are coming up in March with Strade Bianche and Milan Sanremo. Are top ten finishes realistic there?

Yes, absolutely. If we did not believe we can finish in the top 10 there, we’d better stay home. If you manage a professional cycling team and you go to a race with 22 teams in the roster and you are not able to finish in the top 10, then you might better stay home. We may fail to finish in the top 10, just like we did last year. But we have the ambition to be successful – just like in 2020 by the way. If you enter races without such ambitions, there’s something really going wrong.