NAZARETH, Belgium (VN) — Etixx-Quick-Step’s cobbled classic season has fallen below its own standards, but that could all turn around quickly at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday with the defending champion, Dutchman Niki Terpstra, in its ranks.
Terpstra won last year solo, after attacking a group with Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Slovakian Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Brit Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Etixx’s hope is that something similar could happen again.
“The moment of winning Paris-Roubaix is still fresh in my mind,” Terpstra said in a press release Friday.
“I think my chances are pretty much the same as they were in the 2014 edition.”
The team will tell you it is under no pressure in this classics campaign, but with a multi-million dollar sponsorship coming from Belgian companies, winning one of the cobbled classics, which are near and dear to them, is important.
Since E3 Harelbeke, the races have fallen in favor of Sky or Katusha.
Sky’s Geraint Thomas won the E3 Harelbeke after dropping Etixx’s Czech champion, Zdenek Stybar and Sagan. Wiggins won the final time trial stage of the Three Days of De Panne.
Russia’s Katusha team did the rest. Italian Luca Paolini won Gent-Wevelgem, and Norwegian Alexander Kristoff won the first three stages of De Panne, the overall, and the big one, the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
On home turf, Etixx would have liked something to add to its large win count of 18 for 2015. It had runner-up spots — Stybar in E3 and Terpstra in Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde — but not the top step of the podium, aside from Mark Cavendish’s win at the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and a podium sweep at the somewhat obscure Ronde van Zeeland.
Over the border in northern France, that could change with Terpstra lining up with dossard number 1 and Stybar lending support.
In the 253.5-kilometer ‘Hell of the North’ on Sunday, Terpstra will rely on seven teammates with Stybar.
“We have a strong collective, just as last year, who can play several cards. At Paris-Roubaix, a moment can change which card can be played.”
Stybar placed second in E3 and won Strade Bianche in Italy, but was hampered by his teeth in the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday. His false teeth, which he needed after a crash in the Eneco Tour last year, fell out and stopped him from eating enough. He has new teeth, which are glued in well, he explained, as he showed them off Friday during the press conference.
Stybar has reason to smile ahead of Roubaix. Even though he said that the Ronde van Vlaanderen suits him more, in Paris-Roubaix, he has placed fifth and sixth in 2014 and 2013, respectively.
“I hope I will improve my results,” Stybar said. “It would be nice to aim for the podium, but I think our team arrives at this race with a few riders who can go for the win.”
Etixx will ride for Terpstra and Stybar, but also Italian Matteo Trentin and Belgian Stijn Vandenbergh.
“Let’s hope one of us can win the race on Sunday,” Stybar added. “We are in good shape as I think we’ve demonstrated with our results so far.”
Etixx is without its tried and true classics captain, Tom Boonen. The Belgian, winner of four editions of Paris-Roubaix, crashed and injured his shoulder in the Paris-Nice stage race last month.
Though rumors circulated that he could line up in Paris-Roubaix, he will not return until May due to the nature of his injury and the surgery needed. Other leaders will have to try to turn the tide in the last cobbled classic of 2015 for team Etixx.