The Richmond, Virginia course for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships elite men's road race with its steep, cobbled climbs and uphill run to the finish might scream Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan, or Greg Van Avermaet, but there's another name that has been less bandied about, and that's Dutchman Niki Terpstra.
Terpstra has been spending his spare time leading up to the World Championships finishing watching the television series Breaking Bad. The 31-year-old is not unlike the show's protagonist Walter White in that he's willing to take outrageous risks to get what he wants. Ruthless in his pursuit of victory, he's prone to going all guns blazing in the closing kilometres, looking to leave the entire peloton lying (figuratively) bloodied in his wake.
In 2014, when he won Paris-Roubaix, he attacked after the major cobbled sectors with 5km to go, leaving John Degenkolb and Fabian Cancellara with the scraps. In fact, most of his major victories have been achieved with a solo attack - in the Dwars door Vlaanderen 2012 he left the rest of the breakaway behind with 20km to go. In 2014 he went even earlier with 27km remaining.
In the Tour of Flanders this year, Terpstra took his chances well before the final two climbs, going clear with 26 kilometres to go after the Kruisberg. However, Terpstra was followed by Alexander Kristoff and then equalled on the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg before being out-sprinted by the Norwegian on the line. In Richmond, he's looking to avoid having to worry about anyone else when it comes to the finish and win the way ever rider hopes to - with no one else in the photo.
"For me, I prefer to be solo," Terpstra said to Cyclingnews ahead of Sunday's race. "Of course with a small group I can sometimes do a good sprint after such a long race, but I'd rather be alone."
Terpstra admits that the course in Richmond, with all three climbs coming so close to the finish, will make such efforts more demanding and far more complicated to achieve.
"Of course, the shorter the effort, the easier," he said of his solo attacks. "These hills are all in the last 5km, so if you don't do it in the last section, it's maybe the lap before. But then it's going to be 20km and that's pretty long. Everything will happen in the last two laps, but that's like every world championships. I hope the race is starting earlier."
The team from the Netherlands is stacked with talent, but Terpstra points to the trio of Classics specialists in the team as the ones who will be the protagonists. "We have three guys that are specialists in this lap - me, Tom Dumoulin and Lars Boom. I think they're going to race for me. The coach is going with that," Terpstra said.
"I've seen the cobbles, they're not too difficult like a Flanders or something, but it doesn't make the climb easier. It suits me well, it's a hard final in this lap with three climbs in the last couple of kilometres.
"I think you can compare this race to the GP Quebec - [Robert] Gesink and [Bauke] Mollema are also good in these races. Gesink won Quebec, Mollema was close there - all riders who can do well in a race of 250km. I think the team is pretty strong."
After a solid Vuelta a Espana, an early exit, some time resting at home and an early arrival in the USA to get over the jet lag and travel stress, Terpstra is rested and ready to go on the attack in the World Championships. But don't expect him to be ambushing his rivals. True to his style, like Walter White, he is ready to kick the front door in and come in firing.
Smiling, he said, "It's not going to be a surprise."
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