The epic edition of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday didn’t result in the victory that Etixx-QuickStep was hoping to accomplish. Team manager Patrick Lefevere said that Mark Cavendish and several other riders were confronted with bad luck, and that Tom Boonen’s absence made his riders restless. Niki Terpstra, however, salvaged the race for the team when he took second place at a short distance back from winner Luca Paolini (Katusha), and the Dutch rider felt that he got the most out the difficult circumstances.
Terpstra rode attentive near the front of the echelons through Gent-Wevelgem’s strong wind gusts, especially during the famous Moeren flatlands. Midway into the race, the 30-year-old was thrown backwards due to a mechanical when an elite lead group of about 20 riders was doing the loop around the Casselberg climb. Once back in front, he saw Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal) riding away, and then also the counter-attack with teammate Stijn Vandenbergh, Daniel Oss (BMC), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal).
Terpstra seemed locked in the peloton that threw in the towel. He didn’t respond to the late solo move from Luca Paolini (Katusha) who managed to bridge up to the elite chase group.
“I hesitated a bit and I lost the momentum to be together with them. I decided to go when the gap was a minute. It is not just a time trial to make it to the group. It is really full gas, maximum effort, until you can catch them. Otherwise you won't make it. I was able to catch them, even though it cost me a lot,” Terpstra said.
From there, Vandenbergh worked hard for Terpstra to get lone leader Roelandts back. In the final scrimmages, however, Terpstra failed to neutralized the solo move from Paolini, who went on to win an epic edition of Gent-Wevelgem.
Terpstra chased hard together with Thomas and eventually took the sprint for second place.
When stepping into the Etixx-QuickStep team bus, Terpstra said he didn’t mind having Paolini as the winner. “Paolini played it well. It would’ve been nice if we would’ve closed the gap with Thomas. If we would’ve closed it with Debusschere then it would’ve been very hard too. These were extreme circumstances.
“When we reached the Casselberg, I had a flat on top, but at that moment there were 10 groups due to the wind. There were no cars behind us, so I took a wheel of someone standing there with a spare and I pursued. It was difficult. It’s better like this than having no result at all,” Terpstra said.
Coming up next are the Tour of Flanders (April 5) and Paris-Roubaix (April 12) and it seems that Terpstra is ready to defend his Roubaix title. He also said that he felt his good performance at Gent-Wevelgem wasn’t a surprise. “For the outer world maybe. Not for me. I knew I was good.”
When Lefevere looked back on the race he blamed bad luck for missing out on the Gent-Wevelgem victory. The race seemed decided when a five-man breakaway group was chasing lone leader Jürgen Roelandts. Lefevere didn’t feel comfortable with having only Vandenbergh in front. The giant Belgian isn’t known to be a strong finisher and Lefevere had other cards to play in the other groups.
“We had Stijn in front but he never won a race [Vandenbergh won a stage and the overall in the Tour of Ireland in 2007]. In the next group we had Trentin, Stybar, Terpstra and Nikolas [Maes]. With Stijn we were chanceless. With Terpstra in the group our situation improved.
“The worst moment for us was that Stybar flats when the others rode away. We couldn’t wait any longer. Then Stybar flatted and Nikolas gave his wheel. Then we were in trouble again. We were never able to ride at full force. In the final 10 kilometres Terpstra flatted again. It’s hard that way,” Lefevere said.
“In the final kilometres maybe it wasn’t the strongest rider who won but certainly the smartest rider. My riders could not have done anything different. It was about choosing the right moment. Some riders possibly thought Paolini was the most innocent rider. If you give Thomas 10 metres it’s over too.”
Lefevere doesn’t seem to know what to think about Terpstra’s ability. He won Paris-Roubaix last year, twice Dwars door Vlaanderen and twice the Tour of Qatar.
“Tersptra is a weird rider. He’s often fighting back from behind. He’s making so many efforts in an echelon race. He’s always burning so many matches. That seems to be his style. He seems to die but then he attacks,” Lefevere said.
At that stage of the race it was clear the race would not end in a typical bunch sprint. Nevertheless, the team had hoped to set up Cavendish but he was thrown backwards after several incidents.
“We were three times unlucky. One time before the Moeren flatlands when someone rides into his rear wheel. He rode past all the echelons together with Alexander Kristoff. The latter didn’t recover from that too. Paolini was there too. He broke his fork but he bounced back from that,” Lefevere said about the eventual winner.
“Then we put the whole team in front at the cobbles in Izenberge. Then Martin Velits sweeps away due to a wind gust and the whole team is on the ground. He has to chase again. He comes back and then Geraint Thomas rides into his front wheel at the Cassel. He receives a wheel from Stijn [Vandenbergh],” Lefevere said. Vandenbergh had a strong day and little later he managed to return and attack the first peloton.
Lefevere wasn’t blaming his riders but he did notice his men were riding quite nervous since the team’s usual leader for the classics, Boonen, injured his shoulder and elbow in the first stage of Paris-Nice.
“We lost our team leader so the racing style is more nervous. I’m not telling any secrets when I say that. Boonen is someone who brings a peace of mind in the team. Now they all want to win a race and that results in nervousness among the group. We lose our leaders in the descent of the Poggio during Milan-San Remo. Our bad luck should stop.”
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