Due to Tom Boonen's difficult build-up to the season, Dutch champion Niki Terpstra was the designated team leader Omega Pharma-Quickstep team leader for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.
Maybe it was the pressure, or maybe the freezing temperatures and cold wind but eventually Terpstra had an off-day. The team didn’t collapse as teammate
However with Terpstra suffering in the cold, Stijn Vandenbergh suddenly found himself as team leader along with Sylvain Chavanel. The Frenchman used his energy with several solo moves and so Vandenbergh ended up in a duel with Luca Paolini (Katusha). There was nothing the lanky Belgian domestique could do in the sprint against the experienced Italian but he earned praise from Boonen, who was pleased with his own modest performance.
"It’s great to see Vandenbergh do this. I’m happy for him. I knew that Stijn was able to do this. Actually this was quite normal because sometimes he’s doing much crazier stuff but it often goes unnoticed. He’s an underrated rider. He’s very strong but doesn’t have the acceleration to win here from a killer like Paolini.”
The key to the Belgian season opener and many of the April Spring classics is the Taaienberg climb. Terpstra wasn’t able to go with the best on the climb when the race. He refused to look for excuses.
“It’s quite simple. I didn't ride very well. It was tough and sadly enough I didn’t have super legs," Terpstra said.
"Usually you punch up these short climbs but I was climbing them. Maybe it was the cold but apparently the first ten today were able to punch up these climb, so I’m not going to use the weather as excuse. They were in the lead group because they were the strongest in the race.”
“Luckily we had Stijn and Sylvain up front. It’s good for the team that when the leaders weren’t good that the lieutenants took over. It’s nice for Stijn. Too bad he didn’t win but Paolini is a killer. He’s a tough client to deal with. Second isn’t bad.”
Vandenbergh's day in the spotlight
Stijn Vandenbergh is usually a domestique in the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team but on Saturday he turned into a team leader and that included doing a long series of interviews. The giant Belgian enjoyed his day in the spotlight.
“Last year I was really strong in Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix too but now my riding is in the spotlight. I’m really pleased with my second place but obviously my role remains that of being Tom's lieutenant," Vandenbergh said.
"If he won the Ronde [van Vlaanderen] or Roubaix then I get a lot of satisfaction from that too. Though it’s obviously more fun to create a gap on the peloton than to close it down for the peloton."
Vandenbergh has struggled with a knee injury that kept him out of the world championships at the end of last season. Surgery was needed to resolve the problem and he only stopped feeling any pain on the eve of the Tour of Qatar. Fortunately a low-key winter and then intense racing at the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman helped him excel at the Belgian season opener.
“I really went through a tough winter. Although it’s good to know that I don’t need as much training as others," Vandenbergh said.
"I’m very satisfied although of course I wish I'd won. With Paolini as a breakaway companion you quickly realize that you’re riding for second place. He’s 36 and has more experience. I thought I had a chance because after such a hard race you don’t know who’s the strongest. At Steenakker (cobbled section) I tried to accelerate but he was quickly on my wheel."
Vandenbergh got away with Paolini shortly after his teammate Chavanel was pulled back after a solo move.
“From the Eikenberg onwards I felt really strong. When Chavanel led the race I countered all moves with ease. When I saw the grimaces from the others on the Lippenhovestraat (cobbles) I felt really strong. It was the sign for me to attack," he explained, analyising his race tactics.
Boonen is still in charge
Despite Vandenberg's day in the spotlight, Tom Boonen remains the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team leader for the Spring classics.
The Belgian champion finished in the main peloton, at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, six minutes behind Paolini and Vandenbergh, and didn't contest the sprint to the line, preferring to cross the line in the middle of the big group. After warming up in the team bus Boonen talked about his race.
“It was really cold. While racing it was alright, I only got cold when the breakaway was gone. It was a tough race and you didn’t have many bullets to fire," he said.
"My race was better than expected. I can glance back on a few good actions. It wasn’t good yet but already better than last week. A couple of moments I ended up riding where I shouldn’t be. That cost a lot of energy when you’re not at your best. I’m glad that I could bounce back and was in the mix near the front after the Eikenberg."
"When the attacks were flying around the strongest men - nearly all of them – got away. Stybar probably could’ve been there too but I saw he was hesitating to jump along and afterwards he regretted it. But then the race was over."
"The team did well by going on the offensive. That’s what we’re good at. It wasn’t all perfect but not bad. Everybody was on a good level.”