One week ahead of the Tour of Flanders, one of the most illustrious Classics teams is still without a Spring Classics victory. Just like in Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Record Bank E3 Harelbeke, the Etixx-QuickStep team was unable to put other teams on the defense during Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.
Team leader Zdenek Stybar was unable to mark the decisive move with eventual winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo). They were forced to lead the chase in Gent-Wevelgem. They received some support but still they were unable to bring back the four-man breakaway move for their sprinter Fernando Gaviria.
Team manager Patrick Lefevere didn’t want to throw in the towel just yet although he wasn’t pleased with what he saw. He was particularly tough on Stybar. At the finish, Cyclingnews was there to hear what Lefevere had to say while the rain started to pour down hard at the Etixx-QuickStep team bus.
“It’s too bad it only starts to rain now since we perform better in the rain,” Lefevere joked. “I saw the same thing like Friday. The team was just not good enough. Stybar wants to be the leader but he had to sit down and was again on ten metres and failed. In the background we were chasing. This time some teams were helping. I saw that we couldn’t close it down. The best riders were up front,” Lefevere said.
“We tried to anticipate, first with Trentin and then with Vandenbergh. I can’t say nothing wrong about my team. We always raced like this, although we had more success with it in the past.”
With regards to the Tour of Flanders, Lefevere wasn’t hopeful, but he expects more from Paris-Roubaix. “There’s still two weeks. Tom is improving every day after his injury. He’s still lacking something on the climbs. Let’s pray that Paris-Roubaix can be D-day. What can we do differently next week... nothing. I preferred to be in a different position but I’m not panicking. Panic is not a good advisor. Listening to journalists isn’t what we need to do now. There’s no resignation, too. There’s another small race called Roubaix, too. Hopefully we can talk about something else than what the outer world sees as failure in two weeks time.”
When approaching the second and final ascent of the Kemmelberg there was one leader in front, Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha). Stijn Vandenbergh anticipated the steep cobbled Kemmelberg climb with a solo move but he didn’t receive much bonus. On the Kemmelberg, top guns Sagan and Cancellara unleashed their power. They crested the top of the climb first with Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) riding just ahead of Zdenek Stybar and Luke Rowe (Sky). Vanmarcke managed to bridge up to Sagan and Cancellara, whereas Van Avermaet, Stybar and Rowe fell just short.
“The difference isn’t big,” Boonen said, straight after the finish in Wevelgem. “It’s always just a couple of metres but these are important metres though. The metres at your maximum are those that matter most. We will see. It’s still a week until the Ronde van Vlaanderen and two weeks until Roubaix. Anything can still happen. We’re there as a team but it’s a shame that we were unable to sprint for the victory.”
After the group with Stybar was caught back by the peloton the Etixx team switched tactics, trying to set up a sprint for their talented sprinter Gaviria. That didn’t work out and in Wevelgem Gaviria finished just behind Arnaud Démare (FDJ) in the sprint for fifth place.
“We put all our money on Fernando but we didn’t come any closer. Then it’s clear,” Boonen said.
For a long time the Belgian team seemed in control of affairs in a demanding Gent-Wevelgem. Although not comparable with last year, Boonen felt that the wind made it a very hard race of 242 kilometres. He claimed the riders rode flat out all day long. At any given moment riders were getting dropped when there were crosswinds. At 111 kilometres from the finish Boonen was nearly dropped from the first peloton himself when the race covered the Route Nationale D916 between Cassel and the Mont des Cats. Boonen was having a nature break on the bike with teammate Nikolas Maes at his side, at the back of the group. Suddenly there was a crosswind.
“Nikolas [Maes] got dropped by my mistake. It was one of the few sections where one could sit upright. I didn’t expect it. Immediately four or five riders got dropped ahead of us after a small gust of wind. As soon as the group went on the side of the road a handful of riders got dropped. I had to dig deep to bridge back up and Nikolas only returned 30 kilometres later. It was a tough race.”
Boonen felt that not only Sagan and Cancellara were outstanding. “Sep is outstanding too. The Kemmelberg doesn’t lie. I was unable to climb faster there,” Boonen said.
The second ascent of the Kemmelberg was climbed from a side that Gent-Wevelgem hasn’t used for many years. Also for Boonen it was a step into the dark.
“The backside of the Kemmel is a nasty climb. It was an unknown climb for us. At least, I’ve never done it from that side. I was a bit scared about it because I read it would be harder than the Koppenberg. Everybody was a bit hesitant and not trying to force things. If you blow up there you’re set afoot. In the end I felt it was alright. It’s certainly not as hard as the Koppenberg but it’s certainly a climb that hurts.”
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