A regular nominee for best supporting actor in Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s ensemble cast, Niki Terpstra took centre stage in Doha on Friday as he sealed overall victory at the Tour of Qatar, the first stage race win of his career.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s pre-eminence all week was total. The team’s most bankable star, Tom Boonen, claimed two stage wins and second place overall, while there was a breakthrough showing from Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, who finished as best young rider.
The Belgian squad also claimed three stage victories and the team classification, and – perhaps most impressively – all eight of their number were part of the winning echelon of 23 riders on stage 2. It was Terpstra, however, who topped the billing by claiming victory on the opening day, putting in a solid time trial midway through and coolly defending his gold jersey throughout.
"It's important because it's the first time in my career that I’ve won a short stage race," Terpstra said after descending from the podium on Doha’s Corniche. "I was already on the podium of Eneco Tour, Three Days of De Panne and other races but this is quite a new experience. I learned a lot this week."
Terpstra joins the roll call of QuickStep riders to claim overall victory in Qatar, following in the wheel tracks of Boonen, Wilfried Cretskens and last year’s winner, Mark Cavendish. As he hinted afterwards, a strong showing in the Persian Gulf is virtually company policy.
"The whole team was motivated here. I think since the first Tour of Qatar, QuickStep was good here, so we’ve got a name to keep up," Terpstra said, adding that their aggressive tactics in the crosswinds earlier in the week were born of necessity.
"Of course, in these races with the wind, to attack is the best defence, actually. If you start to make an echelon, most of the time the majority of your team is in there, and that’s what we did."
While Terpstra will remain on the Arabian Peninsula to ride the Tour of Oman next week, one senses that his thoughts and those of his teammates are already trained on the Classics.
Now 29 years of age, Terpstra has been steadily building his résumé on the cobbles since signing for QuickStep in 2011. Two years ago, he claimed an impressive solo victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen and helped Boonen launch his race-winning attack at Paris-Roubaix before helping himself to 5th place. Last season, with Boonen missing through injury, Terpstra reached Roubaix’s famous old velodrome in third place, one of the few positives from an ill-starred spring for his team.
"I’m not on the top of my form yet, I hope," Terpstra said. "I just want to say my form is ok, but it’s not at the end. I can keep it until April, and improve."
The Tour of Qatar is a preliminary stage on the road to the classics and QuickStep’s display this week felt like a signal of intent ahead of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) was another of the race’s top performers, while Fabian Cancellara (Trek), by his own admission, is still feeling his way into the new campaign.
Come April, Terpstra expects all of the regular actors to be ready for the box office features on the pavé, but for now, he said his team’s focus was simply on making sure that they got their own lines right.
"Of course, it’s not only Fabian, it’s also the others," Terpstra said. "I don’t look at them but more to my own team. We’re in good shape, we’re looking forward to it and we’re really confident."