By Susan Westemeyer
There is more to Team Milram than just superstar sprinters Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel, with the German team putting a lot of focus on its young riders. That strategy is bearing fruit this season, as Dutch youngster Niki Terpstra is proving. The 23 year-old is going into Sunday's Paris-Roubaix as a joker, with all chances open to him.
His main goal, however, is simply to improve on his performance from 2007. "Last year I made my debut in Paris-Roubaix and I finished 72nd," he told Cyclingnews on Friday. "My main goal that year was simply to finish the event and to learn in the race."
Terpstra first gained attention in his first ProTour year when he won the mountain competition in the 2007 Deutschland Tour. This season, the young talent has shown a consistently strong performance, being very active in Paris-Nice, for example. He then turned on the gas in the Driedaagse von De Panne. He finished fourth in the first stage, an overall ranking he was able to hold on to until the end, missing the final podium by only eight seconds despite a strong showing in the closing time trial.
Terpstra then went on to finish 14th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, which earned him praise from team manager Gerry van Gerwen. "That was a super performance from Niki Terpstra. He has surprised all of us with his results in the last races. He showed great morale in the finale and is earning the trust of the whole team. He will do a lot for us in the future." This kind of challenge could be too much for some, but not for Terpstra. "I think I can handle the pressure, for sure in the Spring Classics," he said.
The Dutchman knows the reasons for his good first part of the season. He rode the Vuelta a España last year and gained additional stamina in the three-week Grand Tour. "I'm a lot stronger now," he added. Terpstra also rode a lot of track events over the winter, which helped him get in shape. "Over the winter I keep the speed in my legs by riding on a warm track."
Terpstra sees himself as a "Classics rider with a good time trial in my legs," but he likes the Grand Tours, too. "I hope I can make it into the selection of the Tour de France," he noted, but when asked if he saw himself as a future Tour winner, he answered with a resounding "NO!"
He would like to ride the Olympics and Worlds this year, but noted wryly that "It's not a question of whether they are on my agenda, but on the national coach's agenda." The youngster knows that while he has come a long way, he is not yet at the top. "The last weeks I have shown I'm on the way, but the last step to the top is the hardest one."