The Omega Pharma - Quick-Step troops led by Tom Boonen entered the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Ghent as big favourites, but they left the Belgian town empty-handed. With Boonen, Zdenek Stybar and others struggling with the cold, Nikki Terpstra took over the reins. In the absence of race radios, the Dutchman missed a clear chance for the podium, opting to stick to the original team tactics and await a return of teammates. After the race, both Terpstra and team manager Patrick Lefevre were fuming about the wall of motorbikes which affected the race for them.
"It'll sound like we're bad losers, but the race was falsified by the motorbikes. Edvald was smart enough to attack behind four motorbikes while I was dangling on the cobbles in the wind. A little later, those two [Stannard and Van Avermaet] attacked and there's a huge amount of motorbikes again. I would not have won regardless, but something has to be done," Terpstra said shortly after the race while standing in the doorway of the team bus on the St-Peter's square in chilly Ghent.
Terpstra featured in the three-man lead group with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Lars Boom (Belkin) while enjoying a 45-second lead over a large group at only 30km from the finish. "I didn't co-operate because I thought my teammates were coming up. I had no information. When we were caught by a group of 20 riders, only Stijn Vandenbergh was there and not Tom Boonen. I thought, "F*ck, what did I do, why did I give so much away and not take some pulls'. It probably looked stupid. From there, my motivation was gone," Terpstra said.
"Then again, our tactic was clear: only the win counted. If we were not 100 percent sure, then we would wait for Tom because he's in top form. Edvald is a sprinter, Lars is not slow either. It was not 100 percent. In hindsight, much more was possible if only more information would have reached me. I can't blame my teammates."
One of those teammates was Boonen. The cycling star reached the bus like a frozen man, hardly getting off his bike and into the warm team bus. It took a long time before the 33-year-old Belgian came back down the doorway to talk to the media. Boonen realized that Terpstra was in an awkward position due to the lack of race radios.
"I don't like it that we don't have race radios, but it's like that so we'll have to take it for granted," Boonen said. His absence in the first chase group behind teammate Terpstra was caused by the cold.
"It's not a lacuna in my palmarès, not yet," Boonen said. "It may sound weird for a so-called Flandrien, but I've never been able to stand this foul weather, I'm too skinny for this coldness. I was shivering from the cold on the bike. My wrists are hurting from the shaking. I didn't feel anything. I couldn't shift, eat. I couldn't do anything. Even clothing doesn't help. Maybe it's my height. I'm a child of the sun," Boonen said.
"We were reaching the hill zone and getting warm, so we took off some layers. Then we were affected by a rain shower that didn't stop. The cold came over me, and I just couldn't stand it. It felt like it was only just above freezing point. Stybar, Trentin and I ended up in a second group just because we were frozen. We tried to get back, hoping it would improve, but it didn't. All the skinny guys were suffering. Tomorrow's weather will be better so let's hope for that."
Boonen added that he liked the removal of the Pompeiana climb in Milano-Sanremo. "It's a good news for me. I'll head over there with the same ambitions as in the past and those were high," Boonen told Cyclingnews.
Team manager Patrick Lefevre was a disappointed and frustrated man when he talked with the media after the race on Saturday in Ghent. "You don't have to know a lot about cycling to see that the race was falsified," Lefevre said. "We didn't understand Boasson Hagen his tactics. He didn't want to co-operate while he is a faster man in the sprint. Then, on the Lange Munte [pavé], he attacked behind the motorbikes. Even the motorbike out-riders were there. Then they got caught and two riders rode away behind six motorbikes then, that makes a difference of 15km/h; that's a big difference. You can be the best rider in the world but you're not going to close it down."
"This was not a cycling race but a race between motorbikes trying to get the best photo. It's time for the UCI to step in. This was scandalous behaviour. I understand that this is the first Belgian race, but this was clear race falsification." Last week Lefevre asked the team directors to talk about the problem at a big meeting in Brussels with the UCI. "They talked about the re-organization of the teams while that's a topic of the team managers."
While the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is the traditional opener of the Belgian road season, there's also the traditional rematch on Sunday with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Omega Pharma-Quick-Step had a big task up ahead. "The season started. We came here with 10 wins in the bag but today there's a lot of losers and we're part of them. We came here to win but as a team we didn't deliver to the high expectations," Lefevre said.
Only a win would make up for some of Lefevre's disappointment, but he didn't want to say the team had to win on Sunday in Kuurne. "They're never obliged to win."