Opening weekend giveth, and Opening weekend taketh away. Twenty-four hours after a cohesive team performance helped Ian Stannard to victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Team Sky were caught out by Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s forcing on the Oude Kwaremont at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday.
QuickStep, of course, were themselves out to make amends for a disappointing outing at the previous day’s Omloop, and the empire struck back in devastating fashion. No fewer than five of the men in black were in the winning ten-man move that formed with 70 kilometres to go, and Tom Boonen crowned the afternoon by sprinting to victory.
Back in the main peloton, Sky and Lotto-Belisol were the first teams to try to marshal the chase, for Edvald Boasson Hagen and André Greipel, respectively. Alexander Kristoff’s Katusha team also put their shoulders to the wheel a little later, but they were unable to make significant inroads into the Boonen group’s advantage. In the end, Sky’s best finisher on the day was Edvald Boasson Hagen, who rolled home in the main peloton in 38th place.
“I think Lotto did what they could and we did what we could, but I think other teams could have started working a lot earlier,” Sky directeur sportif Servais Knaven said afterwards. “Giant-Shimano and FDJ only came to the front with one lap to go with 1:10, when you know it’s too late. I don’t know why they waited that long.
“I think if everybody had started riding together after Kwaremont, then there was a chance. But if you have five QuickStep and three Belkin in front, you are 100 percent sure they will ride together, they will never stop. And that’s what happened.”
By dint of its place on the calendar, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne has the reputation as something of a consolation race for those who fell short at Omloop the previous day. Its start and finish in a non-descript suburb of Kotrijk certainly contrasts with the grandeur of Ghent’s Sint-Pietersplein, and it is a decidedly lower-key event.
Knaven acknowledged that Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s need for a result to salvage their weekend meant that their motivation outstripped Sky’s at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, but he did not believe it was the decisive factor in the race.
“Of course it’s a little bit different when you want to have some kind of revenge, but the guys in front raced yesterday and they also have sore legs. When you win yesterday like we did, you feel a little bit different but that’s not an excuse,” Knaven said. “I think the guys who were in the break today were the best guys. They were in the best position on the Kwaremont and they were there and we were not there. We have to say they were better today.”
Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s collective forcing on the Kwaremont is ultimately what decided the race, with Stijn Vandenbergh leading the line, and Boonen, Matteo Trentin, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Nikolas Maes following. Knaven insited that Sky’s failure to cover the move was not a question of tactical error – everybody knows they need to be in the front twenty riders at the foot of the Kwaremont, but that is simply easier said that done.
“Being in the front on the Kwaremont is nothing to do with tactics. It’s what everybody wants, so that’s not tactics,” Knaven said. “If you are not there, it can be because you had to brake at the wrong time or because you don’t just have the legs. And you can’t all be in the first position.
“I mean in Omloop, Boonen is normally always in the first position on the Taaienberg but yesterday he was not there. It’s a fight like a bunch sprint going towards the bottom of these climbs. Of course, some people are there nine times out of ten and other people six out of ten. I can’t explain why.”
Over the years, QuickStep have shown themselves to be a nine out of ten team in such situations. Heartened by Stannard’s Omloop victory, Sky’s next task will be to reach that same level of consistency, starting this April.