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When the going gets tough, the team to watch is Etixx-Quick-Step

When the going gets tough, whether it's in the sandstorms of Qatar or on the cobblestones of Europe, Etixx-Quick-Step is the team to watch

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Etixx-Quick-Step underlined its classics-riding capacity with a hard-fought overall victory at the Tour of Qatar Friday.

It was nothing new for the Belgian team, which has a long record of not only dominating the Middle Eastern stage race, but more importantly, the big one-day races.

“That’s always the team that everyone looks at,” Sky sports director Servais Knaven told VeloNews.

“They are specialists in races like the Tour of Qatar and in the classics. Every other team has two or three riders who can do the same, but they have probably eight.”

Knaven benefited from the team’s strength at Domo-Farm Frites, a previous version of team Etixx, when he rode free to win the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. The attention paid to its team leaders, including Johan Museeuw, allowed the Dutchman to have his space and a monument victory.

Thanks to Dutchman Niki Terpstra’s win Friday, the team counts eight overall victories in 14 editions of the Tour of Qatar.

High winds and sandstorms marked the 2015 edition. Etixx, however, was always at the front of the peloton for Terpstra. Teammates like Tom Boonen helped split the group into echelons in several stages and forced out several of the team’s rivals.

Terpstra did the rest by winning the time trial Tuesday, with enough time to take the overall leader’s golden jersey.

The power, echelon-riding ability, and general awareness that serve to win in the Persian Gulf state will also help for the upcoming classics. The first big one, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 28, is only two weeks away.

Last year Terpstra won the Tour of Qatar overall and two months later rode solo to win Paris-Roubaix.

Belgium’s Boonen counts four overall victories in Qatar and wins in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s no secret that they are the strongest team in these races, both in Qatar and in the classics,” Sky’s Luke Rowe said. “They are the guys to watch.”

Racing in the oil-rich Arab state does not automatically equal classics success, but it could help build strength and sharpen skills for the months to come.

In three of the four years Boonen won Qatar, he went on to win Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s in their blood, their roots, the history and everything,” Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis said.

“I’ve been racing in Belgium, and when you race there you see it. Cycling’s part of the culture, they are crazy there for it. The Tour of Flanders and these races. They live for that.”

Etixx is one of two top teams in Belgium along with Lotto-Belisol. Lotto has a few big wins in the classics, thanks to riders like Peter Van Petegem, but nothing like the team of Patrick Lefevere.

Lefevere has riders for the grand tours, world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, and sprinter Mark Cavendish, but his team’s focus is on the classics.

“Sky can do it also, but maybe they have other goals like the Tour de France,” Etixx sports director Wilfried Pieters said. “You can try to have goals in the classics and the Tour, but it’s difficult. We try, but it’s difficult.

“For example, in the Tour, team Movistar has men who can support on the climbs, but in the spring classics, they don’t have that.

“It’s the type of riders we have, Nico Maes, Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra. … Strong guys with big legs who like riding in races with echelons.

“We have more riders who can make results in these type of races. When one guy is strong, and the other guys are there marking behind, you have a team.”