Etixx-QuickStep's formation from Patrick Lefevere struggled at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, failing to place a rider among the top 10. In fact, the powerful Belgian team hasn't won the Classics opener since 2005 with the victory from Nick Nuyens.
The team was never in control of the race and when it mattered their riders lost out in the battle for positions over the famous Taaienberg climb, also known as Boonen-climb. The leaders of the team in Gent were specialists Niki Terpstra and Tom Boonen.
After the race they stepped out of the team bus, only to admit that they weren’t there during the most decisive point of the race.
Dutch champion Terpstra was humble in defeat. “At the Taaienberg we were not in the right position. It wasn’t lost there but when we tried to set things straight we ran into bad luck. We could close that gap but there was a crash from Tony Martin when coming off the cobbles where I landed into some spectators. Then at the Haaghoek I had a chain problem and I had to chase again,” Terpstra said.
“There’s only ten riders who can ride in the top 10. Normally we ride there but not this time. Our rivals were there. That’s where we lost the first battle.”
It was Boonen's first race of importance after sustaining his head injury. A lot of questions were raised whether he would be able to get back at the highest level. Before the race he stated that he didn’t expect to win, mainly hoping not to get a major beating. Boonen finished eleventh, not pushing on in the sprint for sixth place.
“There’s only one place that matters. That’s what they always say. A sprint for sixth place isn’t important.” Boonen regretted the lack of support from other teams. “As usual, we received little support until it was too late. Then they start to chase and we got really close. It’s a pity. Our bad luck was that Nikki and Tony crashed. We had to wait for Nikki. They gained 15 to 20 seconds and we never closed those down.”
On a personal level, Boonen wasn’t completely satisfied. “It wasn’t good. It could’ve been better but I’m pleased. I didn’t expect too much out of it. Late in the race I got back in the race and felt better. If I can digest tomorrow’s race, well then I can head home as a satisfied man,” Boonen said.
The 35-year-old Belgian rider said he lost out in the battle for positions ahead at the Kruisberg and Taaienberg. “The wind allowed everybody to be more fresh when reaching the key area. I was in front when I needed to, at the Donderij [cobbles between Kruisberg and Taaienberg]. Then I got boxed in because the peloton swerved to the left where I was,” Boonen said.
“I was always two to three rows too far back. As soon as we reached the Kruisberg, coming off the big road to Ronse I ended up behind small crashes or flat tyres. Everybody was battling for positions because everybody wants to be in front. So I was too far behind when hitting the Taaienberg and from there it was misery, always too far back. As soon as I was back in front with Nikki those guys were too far away. I didn’t have the legs to go with them anyway.”
When asked whether that was the reason why Boonen wasn’t featuring up front, he admitted that was the case. “Probably. I don’t have to look for apologies. I knew that the big road to Ronse was important. It’s tricky with the wind because you don’t want to be in front too soon. I was saving energy at the back but then there were two crashes just before we hit that road. We were all on a long line and only got back in the peloton at the bottom in Ronse. Then it was over.
"Normally wind isn’t a problem. You’re limping on two thoughts. You try to save energy but that’s how you end up at the back and the you miss the moves.
“It’s a good sign. Mostly we’re not succeeding here whereas we do win later. I hope it makes everybody hungry while the other riders hopefully had enough. It’s still a long time. It’s not good to be at your best level in the Omloop,” Boonen said.