Call it the Wiggins effect, the Kristoff effect or a combination of the two, but Niki Terpstra has enjoyed a pleasantly low-key build-up to Paris-Roubaix for a defending champion, particularly given that neither one of the traditional favourites, Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, is on hand this year.
Alexander Kristoff's recent run of success has shades of Philippe Gilbert's startling 2011 about it, in that he has seemingly forgotten how to lose, and despite an underwhelming track record at Paris-Roubaix, he has been anointed by many as the likely winner on Sunday afternoon.
Terpstra, however, was very clearly the best of the rest behind Kristoff at the Tour of Flanders and has a significantly more convincing back catalogue on the pavé. He is, after all, one of just two former Paris-Roubaix winners who will line up in Compiegne this weekend. Before meeting with the press in Nazareth on Friday afternoon, Terpstra renewed acquaintances with the pavé during Etixx-QuickStep's last reconnaissance of the Paris-Roubaix finale.
"I haven't watched last year's race too much, the moment is still really fresh in my head," Terpstra said. "I felt really good performing recon today. It was nice to be back. I have good memories of course. It was good to get a feel for Sunday. It was good to feel the cobbles and get a good feeling for Sunday."
Solving a problem like Kristoff has proved beyond the professional peloton for the past two weeks, and apart from stating the obvious – he needs to be distanced before the velodrome – Terpstra was coy about how exactly he and his teammates will go about doing it on Sunday. They will doubtless hope that the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix provide some answers of their own.
"You definitely can't beat him in a sprint. You have to get rid of him," Terpstra said. "Of course there are other riders in the peloton who can win Paris-Roubaix but he is doing a great job. Everybody can see that."
Since the turn of the century, Paris-Roubaix has increasingly had the tendency simply to reaffirm the impressions formed the previous week at the Tour of Flanders, with a remarkable five Flanders-Roubaix doubles achieved since 2003. Terpsta expects the results sheet on Sunday evening to be similar to that at the Ronde.
"The biggest favourites aren’t there, so you can list first ten of the Tour of Flanders and then five others. Sep Vanmarcke for example. He had a bad day at the Ronde, but on Sunday he will certainly be good," Terpstra said.
Cancellara and Boonen's injuries have altered the complexion of this spring, and it is the latter's absence in particular, that has coloured Terpstra's classics campaign. Rather than inhabit his normal position as a foil to Boonen – QuickStep's "false leader" to borrow from football parlance – Terpstra has graduated to the outright captaincy for Paris-Roubaix.
"For me, the big difference is Tom is not there," Terpstra said. "He has got some great experience in this race so you can really depend on him. If he is in some sections in the front, you know you also have to be in the front. He knows the tactics so well. But our sport directors also know this race of course so we can rely on them now."
Terpstra was seated alongside Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh, and each member of that triumvirate will harbour ambitions of riding alone into the Roubaix velodrome on Sunday. The jostling for positions at Etixx-QuickStep amid the vacuum left by Boonen's absence have been subject to much speculation in recent weeks, but manager Patrick Lefevere has insisted that his men are all on the same page.
As at the Tour of Flanders last week, the lack of Boonen means that, despite Terpstra's credentials, Etixx-QuickStep may not shoulder the same responsibility to control the race as they have done in recent years."It's not that different to last year, when we had a big favourite, but without Tom we might have to work less," Terpstra said. "But in our team, everyone has pressure to perform. Everyone wants to do his job as well as possible."
Nowhere more so than at Paris-Roubaix. In twenty editions of the Hell of the North since 1995, a rider from Patrick Lefevere's team has emerged victorious on no fewer than twelve occasions.
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