Dwars door Vlaanderen is a race that has often been dominated by the riders of Omega Pharma-Quickstep manager Patrick Lefevre, but this year the team lacked the leaders to finish the job. Current WorldTour leader Sylvain Chavanel, Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish are the usual leaders in the team but they opted to take an extra day of rest after the demanding edition of Milan-San Remo last Sunday. Last year's winner Niki Terpstra didn't feature in the lead group and those who made the break on Wednesday lacked the finishing skills to claim the win.
Stijn Vandenbergh worked hard to bring back Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) late in the race and Nikolas Maes was unable to beat Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) in the sprint of the Flemish one-day semi-classic in Waregem, Belgium. Afterwards team manager Lefevre didn't blame his riders but concluded that for some it's easier to claim a free role than to live up to that role.
"They're good riders but if they have to do it, it's sometimes close but no cigar. Everybody in our team had a free role today instead of riding for Tom Boonen or someone else. Terpstra was one of the favourites but I think he waited too long since he easily won the sprint for eleventh place. If you're not in the breakaway group, you can't win of course. Stijn was probably one of the strongest today but winning is something else," Lefevre concluded.
"The boys did what they had to do. Others were more experienced though, like Mathew Hayman. He didn't give a pedal stroke too much when he was up the road with Gert [Steegmans] and then later with Stijn but at the finish he was third. Those riders were taking pulls but were already at the limit when they dropped back, just like Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Greenedge). Nikolas isn't slow but after such a race it isn't about sprint but about how strong you are," Lefevre said.
Nikolas Maes heralded teammate Stijn Vandenbergh for being one of the strongest riders in the race, together with Thomas Voeckler. Vandenbergh already performed well in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this year, the opener of the Belgian road season, but there, too, it was clear Vandenbergh wasn't a finisher as Luca Paolini (Katusha) easily held him off in a two-man sprint in Gent.
"Today I felt good again just like I did in Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo. Especially on the Oude Kwaremont I felt great - but there was a headwind, making it too hard to go solo. A little later I was together with Mathew Hayman (Sky) but he seemed to wait for others and didn't take strong pulls. Just before Voeckler attacked in the finale I reacted to a move from Ian Stannard (Sky). There was the two of us up front... from there we played the cards for Nikolas for the sprint. I don't mind sacrificing my chances but I regretted that the man from Sky and Astana didn't help more," Vandenbergh said.
In that sprint Maes blamed himself for getting boxed in and coming no closer than sixth place. Making the quick tactical decisions deep in the finale was something Maes found hard.
"There's not a lot of time. The fatigue influences your ability to react. Once a decision is taken you can't turn the clock back. Disappointed? No, I rode well but of course in cycling you have to take the opportunities when they occur. Especially if you see with what line-up we came here. It was ideal for men like me. I tried to seize the opportunity. I did it for 50 per cent. I think you need to learn how to finish it, by going through these situations. I can feel good in a role of domestique but when you have the chance then you have to try to finish it. If I ride a finale it's normally completely in support of others," Maes said.
Anticipating the sprint was something team director Wilfried Peeters spoke about after the race. He suggested Maes should have joined Voeckler in the late breakaway move.
"Maybe. Maybe they would chase us down and somebody else would jump away while I'm on my limit. To me, a solo attempt seemed the best move to allow some distance because there were at least three riders to close it down. Though close, that theory actually worked out but the end result is that I'm sixth," Maes said.
On Friday the team's usual leaders at the Spring classics, Chavanel and Boonen, are back for the E3 Harelbeke, followed by Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.