HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Tom who?
Quick-Step will never forget classics superstar Tom Boonen, but the Belgian outfit proved in the opening salvo of Flanders week that it is doing just fine in the post-Tomeke era
Friday’s impressive one-two drubbing at E3 Harelbeke showed that Belgian’s premier classics team isn’t missing a beat.
“Tom is Tom, and he will always be a legend,” said Quick-Step sport director Tom Steels. “You have to see guys like Phil [Gilbert], Niki [Terpstra], and Stybie [Zdenek Stybar], they are all champions. This team has so much character. These guys all fight to win.”
With Boonen happily enjoying retirement since stepping down in last year’s Roubaix, the team’s other stars are hungrily filling the void.
If Boonen was Quick-Step’s central focus during his reign as Belgium’s biggest star of his era, this new-look version is proving it is a team of equals. Terpstra lept into the void Friday, but he had Philippe Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar, and Yves Lampaert waiting in the wings.
“Everyone gets a chance on this team,” said Stybar, who marked wheels Friday in the lead chase group. “It’s all about creating these situations.”
On Friday, Quick-Step piled on the pressure early, with Tim Declercq and Iljo Keisse setting a blistering pace after a big crash fractured the peloton about halfway through the race. Declercq has emerged as a big-shouldered bruiser in the style of Boonen’s old set-up man Stijn Vandenbergh.
“My job was to keep the team on the front,” Declercq said. “When I heard that there was a crash in the bunch, we are not going to hesitate, and go full-gas. I drove as far as I could, and my tank was empty and the job was done.”
Strength in numbers was key. Terpstra and Lampaert chugged clear with 70km to go, while Gilbert and Stybar hovered in the chasing group.
With those numbers, Quick-Step’s biggest worry was messing it up.
“A strong team is very important in these classics races,” said Quick-Step sport director Wilfried Peeters. “We had two in the front and two guys in the back. That gives you a lot of cards to play.”
Friday’s impressive display confirmed Quick-Step is the strongest and most efficient team heading into the heart of Flanders week.
Greg Van Avermaet saw solid support, with two friendly BMC jerseys in the chase group, but most of the other big names were isolated or with just one teammate.
That bodes well for the next major battles at Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, and Roubaix. The team’s confidence is flying high.
“These guys work the whole year for these big races,” Steels said. “We already know we have a win. This is the ‘little’ Tour of Flanders. It gives us confidence heading into the big dates.”
The one-for-all, all-for-one mentality seems to be working just fine. With E3-Harelbeke, the team won its sixth-straight race in Belgium. Not even Boonen could do that.