The build-up to the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix is clearly passing over cobbled roads for the Quick-Step Floors team of manager Patrick Lefevere. The team already captured 17 victories this season with nine different riders. Still, one week ahead of the Ronde there must be some doubts on how to tackle the upcoming Monuments. Being undoubtedly the strongest team for the classics, they're fighting up against two strong individual forces in the spring classics.
With one win in the spring classics since the Belgian opening weekend, the Belgian team will not be satisfied. As team manager Patrick Lefevere said at the finish after Gent-Wevelgem: "We don't ride for podium spots; we ride to win."
During Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem race, the team had the numbers in front during the final 30 kilometres but they failed to convert it in a win. First they had three men in the front group of fourteen riders, shortly after the Kemmelberg. Then, with twenty kilometres to go, the group got reduced to five men when Keukeleire attacked. Only Niki Terpstra survived that selection. Not being the fastest man up front and having Gaviria and Boonen in the main group, the Quick-Step team was limping on two thoughts. In the end, Terpstra was playing a game of poker with Sagan and both riders got dropped from the group. The peloton fell six seconds short to sprint for the victory.
"They were being a couple of donkeys, checking out who was keeping cool. Nikki didn't fail. Sagan failed. If you're Sagan and you're in such a situation, you always have to react. It's the only man who lost the race today. Nikki didn't lose the race. He was there, trying to win the race. It's up to Sagan to react at that moment. If you're the strongest rider and the world champion," Boonen said.
He was disappointed that the team was unable to more with their numerical advantage. "It's a pity because we had the right guy up front, although if you're not winning then it wasn't the right man. It's someone who can win a race. There was a misunderstanding about whether to co-operate or not. That's why those two were able to ride away. Nikki was doubting for a moment. It's was a misunderstanding because I said that he should ride along. I said he should try something in the final kilometres. Then we lost communication with each other, also with the car. It's a pity when you see the result, knowing that you were up there with seven men in the two groups," Boonen said.
Also team manager Patrick Lefevere regretted a missed opportunity to win Gent-Wevelgem, despite having the numbers up front. "One day goes better than the other, to benefit from having a numerical advantage. Wednesday we were first and second, Friday we were second at very short distance. Today we're fourth and sixth. Some riders are happy with second, like Jens Keukeleire today but we don't ride for podium spots; we ride to win. Every cyclist wants to win. When he [Terpstra] got back to Sagan he's stopping because he's spent his energy," Lefevere said after the finish in Wevelgem.
When asked about the Sunweb team car that protected the chase group with Terpstra from the headwind, Lefevere started fuming about the motorbikes in front of the lead group. "People were shouting that it was cheating but the cheating happened in front. I'm a bad loser, I know. You tell me - when there's a lead group of two riders - why the motorbike - with a headwind from the left - why the motorbike is in on the left hand side for the camera. And then there's the photographers too, of course. We all know who's driving the motorbike, and who's soigneur at a certain team, etcetera," Lefevere said.
The main problem for the Quick-Step team seems to be that both Sagan and Van Avermaet are forces they need to reckon with. It's hard to play the numerical game against two such strong forces.
"There's two men who're a level above the rest. They're the two best riders of the race. You don't need a degree to figure that out. If there's an acceleration on the Kemmelberg, they're riding away with the rest struggling behind them. We've been racing attractively all day long. The others have seen what we can do during the past few races so BMC controlled the race until the Kemmelberg, then it was up to Van Avermaet. Nikki will always have to pass against men like Van Avermaet and Sagan on these climbs. It doesn't mean you can't come back. In the bus he was very disappointed. He was cursing 'godverdomme' in Dutch style," Lefevere said.
The flamboyant team manager did say a mistake had been made by his team. "There's been a mistake, that's true. Nikki should've been on the wheels. He was told not to ride because Gaviria and Boonen were coming up behind them. They came back to about ten seconds but of course it wasn't the goal to let those two ride away," Lefevere said.
Terpstra took a shower in the team bus before talking with the gathered media at the Quick-Step Floors team bus. He explained what happened when Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) rode away, leaving him with Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) and Soren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb).
"He's the world champion and we had Tom Boonen and Gaviria behind us, they can sprint quite well. It wasn't up to me to close that gap. He was bluffing but I can bluff too. I was co-operating but Andersen was wheelsucking which was annoying. I did my pulls. I got annoyed by Andersen and then the gap came up. Then we all waited too long. We briefly had words but then we realised that it was better to co-operate to try and close the gap. We did that with the two of us. The other one from Giant didn't work. He just sat on. It's typical behaviour from that team," Terpstra said.
When asked if he realised that their behaviour rode them into defeat, Terpstra agreed. "Yes. But they know what they've got with me the next time. Of course it's a missed opportunity. On the other hand it's a boost for the confidence to see how strong the team was today. Today we played a bit of poker but we lost. We've done well in the classics so far and there's a few more nice races coming up," Terpstra said.