Tom Boonen was running late and as Patrick Lefevere nervously shuffled in his seat at the Omega Pharma - Quickstep press conference in Nazareth it was clear that the Belgian manager needed help, both to get through the team’s press conference but also on Sunday for the Tour of Flanders.
Cue the entrance of Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terstpra who although have not a single major Classic between them, perhaps hold the key to rescuing Omega Pharma’s Classics campaign.
"Last year it was clear that Boonen was the leader," Lefevere offered up almost apologetically as his star rider struggled to get through the Belgian rush hour.
"He was winning all the races. I don't want to go through what Tom when through earlier this year - we're hoping that with the team he will 100 per cent on Sunday. But it’s clear that this situation isn't the same as last year."
Twelve months ago QuickStep and Levefere could do no wrong, and every tactic turned to gold with a clean sweep from Dwars Door Vlaanderen until the finish line of the Roubaix track. They were the invincibles of the Classics.
With Boonen rushing back to full fitness after a difficult start to the year and a crash at Gent-Wevelgem, Lefevere has issued Chavanel and Terpstra with chance to share leadership, at least publicly as he tries to keep rivals guessing as the full extent of Boonen’s knee problems.
At 34, Chavanel has never had a better chance to lead, while Terpstra was a solid 6th in last year’s Ronde.
"Even the last few days since San Remo, Sylvain has been in very good shape and Niki has always been there when we've needed him. The team is very strong and we have a least six riders who can define the race and it’s up to us find the key to beat the others," Lefevere added.
"We’re not racing to be at the front, we're racing to win. We have the riders to make the race tough, but if Niki or Sylvain are off the front with Sagan or Pozzato who are on paper faster in the sprint it’s not up to us to ride with them to the finish. "
Despite Omega Pharma starting with a team stacked with depth, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan will remain as favourites. The RadioShack rider soloed to a win at E3 Harelbeke, dropping Boonen and the rest of the field in the process, while those that point to Sagan’s possible lack of experience would do well to remember that he has ridden the new Flanders parcours just as many time as Boonen.
"Every race is different. I hope that we have the strongest team and that Cancellara will have to ride behind us. We have two teams that are strong, us and Sky. Sagan is winning in a spectacular way and Cancellara has his experience."
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