Road

Rivals agree on Quick-Step’s strength but opinions differ on how to overcome at Roubaix

Quick-Step Floors has been a force to be reckoned with during the cobbled classics in 2018.

COMPIÈGNE, France (VN) — It’s no secret: Quick-Step Floors has been the dominant team of the 2018 classics season. It has not even been close, really. The Belgian squad claimed E3 Harelbeke, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the Tour of Flanders, along with racking up a slew of other top results on the cobbles so far this spring.

On the eve of Paris-Roubaix, Quick-Step’s rivals are not shy about acknowledging the team’s strength. Whether they end up rolling over dry or wet roads on Sunday, many of the riders expect Quick-Step’s gameplan to determine the way the race plays out.

“It all depends on Quick-Step,” said classics veteran Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida). “If Niki [Terpstra] decides to smash it on the Carrefour, we have to try to hang on. That’s not easy with the way he’s riding.”

Terpstra is fresh off a Tour of Flanders win, and is a former champion at Paris-Roubaix. He’s been on flying form this spring. Zdenek Stybar, Philippe Gilbert, and Yves Lampaert, all teammates of Terpstra, could conceivably take the win Sunday as well.

Coming to terms with that depth and actually overcoming the Quick-Step challenge are two different things entirely. At the Paris-Roubaix team presentation, opinions were mixed on how to best face the Quick-Step armada the next morning.

Some teams may like their chances of beating Quick-Step’s stable of talents in a sprint. FDJ’s Arnaud Démare, UAE Team Emirates’s Alexander Kristoff, and maybe even Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) are among the riders to watch in that scenario. Haussler said he was hoping things played out that way, but was expecting Quick-Step to be firing off attacks to keep things from coming down to a sprint. For Haussler and other fast-finishing contenders, Sunday could be all about trying to stay close to the front and follow Quick-Step’s biggest names.

Ag2r La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen, on the other hand, said he was hoping to play Quick-Step’s attack-filled game.

“If we do not race aggressive, Quick-Step will walk all over us,” he said. “Quick-Step is the strongest team in numbers and individually. If you want to win the race, you have to go to the finish with one of them, but not too many of them. And the one you bring, hopefully, they are not too fast in the sprint.”

Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is making his lone cobbled classics start of the year at Roubaix on Sunday, cautioned against building too much of a plan around a single team — even if that team is the clear team to beat on the pavé this spring.

“The main thing is not to focus on Quick-Step and just trying to beat them,” Thomas said. “There’s 20-odd other teams in the race, and if you end up focusing too much on one team you’ll end up losing as well.”

Trek-Segafredo sports director Dirk Demol tried to find a middle ground. He didn’t deny accounting for the strength of Terpstra and Co., but preferred not to lay out too much of Trek’s strategy in advance. After all, why share his plan with the media on the day before the race?

“I don’t want to say that we are really trying to find a way to beat them, but for sure, we have a plan in our head,” he said. “You have to calculate that Quick-Step is the strongest team.”

It’s hard to imagine any team making the Roubaix start without at least some kind of strategy for staying in the mix despite Quick-Step’s dominance. However, those plans often go awry on the pavé.

Sep Vanmarcke has been trying to find his way to the top step of a monument for years. He knows the importance of staying flexible with a race plan. Sometimes – especially for Vanmarcke – Lady Luck seems to frown on a rider at every turn in the classics. Sometimes, though, things just work out.

“Of course, Quick-Step is the team to watch. They’re really strong with the four of them,” he said. “It just comes down to seeing the race really well and having a lot of luck, and then hopefully everything goes alright.”