Niki Terpstra was perhaps the perfect prototype of a Quick-Step Floors rider, a man whose obvious ambition never quite teetered into selfishness. He was, as manager Patrick Lefevere put it this spring, an individualist who doubled as a team player.
During his eight-year tenure at Quick-Step, Terpstra, winner of Paris-Roubaix in 2014 and the Tour of Flanders this season, was rarely shy of suitors willing to make him an outright leader on another team, but he had always preferred to stay put – until now.
On Thursday, Direct Energie announced that they had secured Terpstra’s services for 2019 and 2020. Terpstra’s departure from Quick-Step was perhaps less surprising than his final destination, but, as he told De Telegraaf, the contract offered by the French Continental team was simply one he could not turn down.
Although Quick-Step’s future is guaranteed for 2019, Lefevere’s team is still searching for a title sponsor. The Belgian was unable to promise that could meet Terpstra’s salary expectations for next season, and he could understand the rider’s decision to take his talents to the Vendée.
“It’s life. When there is a budget, there is a budget. If we don’t have enough money in the budget then we can’t pay him, and it’s over,” Lefevere told Cyclingnews in Riemst on Saturday.
When Terpstra signed for Quick-Step from Milram at the end of 2010, he reportedly forsook the chance of a higher salary elsewhere because his mind was set on joining Tom Boonen’s cohort on the most successful Classics team of the era. As a 26-year-old rider, it was a punt worth taking. Now in the latter phase of his career, Terpstra’s decision-making was, understandably, driven more obviously by economics.
“They are professional riders, and there’s a market. Sometimes a rider leaves some money behind him to stay where he is, where he’s happy, but at the end of the story, it’s about numbers,” Lefevere said. “Niki is 34, he has a new house, he has two kids, and maybe it’s one of the last contracts of his life.
“Normally in this part of Europe, riders want to be secure quite early because while the transfer market is officially from August 1, nobody respects that. Niki waited a long time, so he has all my respect for this. I was busy with some potential sponsors, but they didn’t bite and then you have to take decisions.”
Terpstra has enjoyed the best season of his career in 2018, and he showcased his strength with remarkable solo victories at the Tour of Flanders and E3 Harelbeke, but both wins owed much, too, to the collective strength of the Quick-Step team, where Philippe Gilbert, Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Stybar locked down the race behind him. At Direct Energie, by contrast, Terpstra will carry the entire weight of team leadership.
“It will be a big change for him, probably bigger than it will be for us,” Lefevere said. “He has to adapt to a French mentality and a different way to race. Maybe his advantage will be that he will be the leader for the Classics, the only leader, but that’s sometimes also a duty.”
Over the years, Quick-Step has shown itself remarkably resilient to the loss of major names. From the Classics unit alone, men like Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, Matteo Trentin and Stijn Vandenbergh have departed in the not so distant past, but the team scarcely missed a beat. With Gilbert, Lampaert and Stybar on board for 2019, and Fernando Gaviria still to test his potential to the full on the cobbles, Lefevere evinced optimism that the team can sustain the loss.
“If one goes away, another steps up. When Tom Boonen stopped, everybody thought the team was dead, but we’ve never won more than this year,” Lefevere said. “We will see. It depends on how Philippe Gilbert comes back from his injury. Gaviria for two years has said he wants to do the Classics, but one year he was not ready, the next year he was injured. I think we’re still going to do well.”
Lefevere, meanwhile, is continuing his search for a new title sponsor for 2019. Even if new funds are eventually forthcoming, however, it does not necessarily follow that he will attempt to sign a replacement for Terpstra to buttress his Classics squad.
“If I find a sponsor, I will definitely invest but I cannot say if it would be a Classics rider,” Lefevere said. “I don’t see him for the moment, it’s quite late. We will see. I don’t want to buy riders just to buy riders. In that case, it’s better to keep the money for the next opportunity.”
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