E3 Harelbeke’s elevation to WorldTour status and its shift to a Friday slot in 2012 has had an undoubted impact on the depth of the field at Dwars door Vlaanderen in recent years, but the presence of so many of Etixx-QuickStep’s galacticos guarantees a certain quotient of star quality on the start line in Roeselare’s Grot Markt on Wednesday morning.
Tom Boonen, of course, has been ruled out of the entire classics campaign due to injury, though he was never likely to take part on Wednesday in any case – the Belgian has not lined up at Dwars door Vlaanderen since 2011, expressly to spare himself for WorldTour duty at the weekend.
His absence will be keenly felt come the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but on the 200-kilometre trek to Waregem on Wednesday, Etixx-QuickStep have a surfeit of potential winners. Leading the line are world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra and Mark Cavendish, who is fine-tuning ahead of Gent-Wevelgem at the weekend.
Dwars door Vlaanderen will be Kwiatkowski’s sole outing on the cobbles this spring – it would have been unthinkable for a QuickStep-sponsored rider not to race at least once in the rainbow jersey in Flanders – but while the Ardennes Classics are his primary target, the Pole’s is unlikely to be a mere token appearance.
Kwiatkowski already highlighted his condition by finishing second overall at Paris-Nice, though it remains to be seen what impact his crash in the finale of Milan-San Remo has on his performance here. “He needed a couple of days to get over it but tomorrow is his next race so we’ll wait and see, eh,” Etixx-QuickStep directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters told Cyclingnews in Roeselare on Tuesday.
Cavendish, too, suffered misfortune at La Classicissima, when he dropped his chain near the top of the Cipressa, just as he had done in the bunch sprint at Cascina during Tirreno-Adriatico. Although he managed to catch up on the descent, he paid for the effort on the Poggio and was jettisoned out the back.
“He was in that position and it was a very fast descent and you didn’t see too many riders coming back. But he was in a good shape, he was missing maybe two percent,” said Peeters, who confirmed that Cavendish is very much part of Etixx-QuickStep’s plans for Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday regardless of how he fares at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
“He likes to race here to get the feeling for racing in Belgium and it’s good preparation for next Sunday,” Peeters said. “He was a little bit sick before Tirreno so he was maybe missing a little bit for San Remo, and you need to be 100 percent to win there. But now that is over, and he is motivated to make good results tomorrow and next Sunday.”
After failing spectacularly to make their strength in numbers count at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Etixx-QuickStep responded by landing Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne the following day, and then delivered another startling reminder of their collective power by having three of their number break clear together and sweep the podium at the Ronde van Zeeland Seaports at the weekend.
Ronde van Zeeland winner Iljo Keisse is again in the team on Wednesday, along with core classics unit members Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Matteo Trentin, though the two-time Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Terpstra seems the natural leader.
Peeters, however, was coy about his team’s plan of attack. “We have a lot of options,” he said simply, with considerable understatement.