Etixx-QuickStep riders and sports directors cut forlorn and frustrated figures at the finish of Dwars Door Vlaanderen on Wednesday after the team were beaten by a Topsport Vlaanderen one-two courtesy of Jelle Wallays and Edward Theuns.
World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski had made the winning break of four that also included Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Garmin) and the Pole looked the strongest of the group as they tackled the final set of bergs before the finish in Waregen. However, when Wallays soloed clear inside the final two kilometres Kwiatkowski and Van Baarle merely watched on, thus eliminating themselves from the finale. Theuns inevitably picked up second in the sprint with a disgusted Kwiatkowski having to settle for fourth.
Once showered, changed and with time to choose his words more delicately than when he approached Van Baarle at the line, Kwiatkowski was willing to re-live the race but his simmering anger and disappointment was palpable.
“It was a difficult final. I tried to close the gap but I didn’t have support from Van Baarle so it was tough to bring the winner back. We made a good race and I tried to win but I’m happy with my condition,” he said.
However when asked about Van Baarle’s lack of cooperation, he added: “Everyone should race to win and not to finish second or third. He was passive and didn’t want to work and I thought that was strange. We always go for a win if there’s a chance and racing for second isn’t my goal.”
The dispute between Kwiatkowski and Van Baarle threatened to overshadow what was a faultless display from the Topsport minnows, who were constant aggressors in the race and who ultimately exploited the inexperience of their breakaway opposition on the run-in to Waregem.
“Only the strong survived today,” said Etixx-QuickStep’s Patrick Lefevere, who had hoped of toasting a second win in two years. With many of the team’s sponsors locally based a win would have mellowed the mood ahead of Flanders and Roubaix and added impetus and momentum after the loss of Tom Boonen to injury.
“Michal isn’t that used to racing here as he’s only really done the Tour of Flanders but as the world champion he took the responsibility,” Lefevere added in praise of Kwiatkowski’s willingness to race hard.
“Of after the race I can't change anything. The best sports directors are always the ones in front of the television but I think Michal did what he had to do. The chasing group was always less than 50 seconds away and with 10 riders so he didn’t have time to speculate.”
Asked if he was surprised that Van Baarle failed to take a single turn once Wallays had escaped, Lefevere rounded on his opposite number in the Cannondale team car.
“You know who the sports director is? It’s Andreas Klier and he never won a race in his life. And we’ve seen why. I know he was looking at the world champion but how can you win a race if you’re not reacting?”
Klier, once a winner of Gent-Wevelgem, when he outsprinted Tom Boonen amongst others, told Cyclingnews that he expected Kwiatkowski to close the gap to Wallays before the final sprint. Whatever the thought process of the two directors or the post race analysis, Etixx-QuickStep and Cannondale – who are still searching for their first win of 2015 – will have the chance to do battle once more in E3 on Friday.