KORTIJK, Belgium (VN) — Quick-Step isn’t done yet. And the best may be yet to come for Niki Terpstra who is on an unbelievable classics run, having won E3 Harelbeke and Tour of Flanders. In fact, Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix is even more to his liking.
“Of all the races, Roubaix suits me best,” Terpstra said. “After winning Harelbeke and Flanders, it was a bit of surprise. I feel strong still and it gives me confidence.”
After barnstorming across the 2018 northern classics season, the biggest prize is on offer Sunday. For cobble-eaters like Quick-Step, if the Tour of Flanders is the holy grail, Paris-Roubaix is the promised land.
“We are still eager to race,” said Terpstra. “We want to keep going forward. That’s our biggest opponent [complacency]. It’s a new race, a new chance. We start from zero again.”
Quick-Step promises to keep driving its aggressive style of racing straight into the Hell of the North. As Terpstra suggested, resting on its collective laurels won’t win a race as important as Roubaix.
“The pressure is on the others,” said Philippe Gilbert. “We’ve won almost everything. There is a lot of pressure on the others. You can see it. They are starting to stress because they cannot beat us. We are the problem of many teams.”
With Quick-Step’s rivals growing desperate as the cobblestone season comes to a close, the team knows its opponents will be pulling every trick out of the book.
However, the Belgian team may rely on one of its familiar gambits Sunday: Send Terpstra up the road alone.
“I would not want to be racing against us,” said Iljo Keisse, one of Quick-Step’s key workers. “They know if Niki goes, then there’s Philippe [Gilbert] and Stybie [Zdenek Stybar] waiting in the group. My job is to make the race hard. When there’s a group of 15, we want our four leaders in there.”
Terpstra will enter Sunday as the hot favorite. A winner last weekend, he will be aiming for the rare Flanders-Roubaix double. And if Terpstra’s hand cools off in France, Quick-Step’s four-pronged attack could still deliver a win.
Second-line favorites include Gilbert and Stybar, with Yves Lampaert ready to attack early. The team’s support riders are unchanged too: Florian Senechal, Keisse, and Tim Declercq.
Stybar, a former world cyclocross champion, has twice finished second while Gilbert, once king of the hilly Ardennes, will be making only his second start on the Roubaix pavé. Despite his relative lack of experience at Paris-Roubaix, Gilbert should not be counted out.
“This is my first time to race as a contender,” Gilbert said. “The last time I did Roubaix was 11 years ago. I really don’t know my limit at Roubaix.”
Stybar seems destined for Roubaix greatness since his spectacular debut. He’s been close, but he’s no longer satisfied with the podium.
“I have lost two times in a sprint, so I would prefer to arrive alone so I could enjoy the moment,” Stybar said. “To come alone in some kilometers to go, it’s not so easy.”
The team knows it will have the pressure to deliver Sunday. There’s no time for celebration yet — that comes next week — but Quick-Step promises to keep racing just as it has all spring: taking the race straight to their rivals.