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No charity: Terpstra celebrates brutal E3 win

After winless 2017, Niki Terpstra bounces back with an emphatic solo win at E3 Harelbeke, soaring with support from Quick-Step.

There’s no charity in bike racing. Quick-Step’s Niki Terpstra pounded home a ruthless victory Friday at E3 Harelbeke that was paved on the misery of others.

Terpstra’s biggest success since Paris-Roubaix in 2014 came on a string of brutal, calculating — and winning — bets. In cycling, the winner is always right.

His finish-line ecstasy sprang from the opportunity of a crash that split the main bunch and a high-risk gamble to drop a teammate.

“That’s pretty harsh, but that’s cycling,” said Terpstra, who won solo 20 seconds ahead of an 11-man chasing group. “Crashing is the worst part of cycling, but it is part of it. Should we stop because of bad luck of others? I don’t think the others will wait for us.”

A big pileup midway through the race saw six of Quick-Step’s seven starters survive into a reduced front group. They piled it on. Yves Lampaert and Terpstra surged clear with 70km to go. The pair opened up a gap, and Terpstra never looked back. Not even when Lampaert couldn’t follow with 25km to go.

“It was hard to leave Yves, because he was very strong. It would have been a dream to have arrived together,” Terpstra said. “We didn’t talk. I made a hard pace, and Yves was empty, and he wasn’t there anymore.

“The whole race is a gamble,” he continued. “When I waited on the Kwaremont [for Lampaert], we already lost a lot of time. Luckily, he came back on and did a few good pulls. I would rather be alone than to have a rival who is taking no pulls at all, and sitting on your wheel.”

Niki Terpstra
Niki Terpstra dropped his teammate Yves Lampaert and continued on solo. Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Terpstra, 33, lived the highs and lows of bike racing over the past 18 months. A crash-riddled 2017 season saw him go winless. Terpstra returned to winning ways at Le Samyn, a relatively minor Belgian classic that meant the world to the big Dutchman when he won in late February.

“It was a small race, but one of my biggest wins,” he said of Le Samyn. “I was really crying there at the finish line. That was the point I knew I was back.”

Friday’s emphatic victory, with Philippe Gilbert coming across second, reveals the depth and strength of Quick-Step coming into Flanders week.

Of all the major teams, Quick-Step was the one with the most cards to play Friday. Greg Van Avermaet eventually had two friendly BMC jerseys in an 11-strong chase group late in the race, while Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) faded and others were largely left isolated. In the closing 20km, Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar were doing what they could to disrupt the chase when Terpstra was nursing a 20-second gap.

“[The team] really was an important part of the victory,” Terpstra said. “The group behind was chasing, and a Quick-Step rider or two can get in between. I know how annoying that can be. It can make a difference in the end.”

Terpstra hung on alone, fighting against headwinds, personal demons and a burning desire to win. As the course looped back to Harelbeke, he thought all was lost when he turned into a strong headwind. A few lucky corners meant it changed to a crosswind and then finally a tailwind for the final straight to the line.

“I didn’t have the legs to keep fighting against a strong headwind,” he said. “I am so happy.”

Cycling is brutal, but also lucky.