With the crash of Mark Cavendish during the first stage of the Tour de France, the Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team received a big blow. Gone were the realistic hopes of winning the bunch sprints, but the cobblestones of stage 5 could offer a way out of the doldrums thanks to the presence of Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra in the team.
However, with a nearly 100 per cent chance of rain in the forecast and a string of misfortunes that included a crash by Terpstra in today's stage 4, the team will need more than just a little bit of extra luck.
"If it's wet you need a hundred times more luck than when it's dry," Terpstra said while spinning down after the stage, showing the signs of his crash. "I don't think it'll bother me. I look forward to tomorrow."
While Terpsta has his ambitions, there's also the aim of keeping the team's general classification rider Michal Kwiatkowski in a good position, and that might mean that Terpstra will have to flank the Polish rider on the cobbles. Since mechanicals are part of riding over the cobbles it will be crucial to have someone to offer a wheel as team cars will have a hard time to get to their riders on the narrow farm roads.
"Gaining time with Kwiatkowski would be ideal. He surely is capable of doing this work. He's our priority. It'll be a big war but is it any different in the Classics?" Terpstra said. When a journalist asked if one rider could neutralize the race when it became too dangerous Terpstra was clear, "not tomorrow."
For the Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team, the very important battle for a good position within the team cars was lost during the first stage, as Wilfried Peeters explained.
"The first rider of the team decides the order of the team cars. When team time is equal, the sum of the positions in the previous stages decide on the placing," Peeters said, adding that he wasn't particularly happy about his team's position near the back of the following caravan in position 14.
"Things went wrong for us when Kwiatkowski stopped by Cavendish when he crashed in the first stage. Otherwise we would be in the top five. Kwiatkowski crossed the line in 180th position. That's 180 points. We're far back now. There's not much we can do tomorrow."
Peeters expects a spectacular show on Wednesday. "Riders slide away over wet cobbles. It'll be special, if you see how hectic it was today to ride down from the cobbles after the Cassel climb. I rode a wet Paris-Roubaix as a rider myself. We rode away on the first sector and they never caught us back. If a rider in the top 10 crashes the whole peloton will go down."
"The bikes and wheels are similar to those we use for Paris-Roubaix, although you can't compare the stage with what the riders are offered in April. The last three to four sectors are really dangerous and important. In Paris-Roubaix there are much more sectors like that. Of course it'll feel awkward to some riders, who're not used to ride over the cobbles."
Battling in the sprints without Cavendish
Although they lost Mark Cavendish to a crash during the first stage of the Tour de France, Omega Pharma-Quickstep has still been a factor in the sprints, but Mark Renshaw lacks the explosiveness of the Manxman, and his best result was third on stage 3.
"Without Cavendish, Kittel is the fastest," Omega Pharma-Quickstep directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters said. "We have the only train that can beat him. We still get the train on the tracks for Renshaw. It also means our riders get the adrenaline and don't dangle at the back. It's worth trying as you never know what happens."
Renshaw was right behind Alexander Kristoff when the Katusha rider started the sprint from far out. Renshaw let him go and waited for a reaction from the men behind him. Once Kittel blew past him Renshaw didn't have a reaction ready and he went on to finish seventh.
"The team rode excellent today," Renshaw told Cyclingnews. "One of the best rides of the team we've seen this year, which makes it even more bittersweet not to have Cav here today. In the sprint I deliberately gave two lengths to Kristoff. I haven't done any training for these explosive sprints. I thought if I would give him two lengths, lay off a little bit like on the track and then I could come at him. Kittel was already in my wheel and he showed that he was the strongest in the bunch by far. Unfortunately I didn't have the legs to hang on for podium like yesterday.
"It's a constant game of chess. It's a never-ending game until you cross the line. I'm proud of the guys today. Tomorrow is different. There's a ninety percent chance of rain. I'm sure our Paris-Roubaix champion is looking forward to that," Renshaw said.