MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — For all the hype surrounding Philippe Gilbert’s dreams of Paris-Roubaix glory this season, Quick-Step Floors already has a former winner on the roster.
His name is Niki Terpstra, and he’s expecting to be in the classics mix from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad all the way to Roubaix.
“In all the classics I’ve been on the podium. They pretty much all suit me,” Terpstra said at the Tour of Oman this week.
The Dutchman isn’t exaggerating. In fact, he’s even understating things a bit – Terpstra has won or earned runner-up honors in every cobbled classic on the WorldTour calendar.
With those results, Terpstra fits right in on the most complete classics team in the pro peloton. It’s thanks to him and a few others that the team isn’t expecting much of a drop-off in results even after Tom Boonen hung up the wheels last year.
Boonen or not, Quick-Step has an option for seemingly any situation. Tersptra says he doesn’t find it hard carving out his own role within the team. The way he and Quick-Step see things, you can never have too much firepower.
Terpstra sits toward one end of the team’s spectrum of contenders. His self-described strong suit is in the hard finales and the late solo attacks. Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria sits at the other end, ready to sprint to victory in a big bunch kick, with the likes of Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar, and Yves Lampaert falling somewhere in between.
In Terpstra’s eyes, Quick-Step has enough strength in the line-up that little will change when the team hits the cobbles this season sans Boonen. Sure, the media and fan frenzy might be just a bit less intense. And of course, the riders will miss having the ever-popular Boonen around as a teammate. But strategically, Terpstra says, Quick-Step isn’t changing their plans.
“For me, at the moment, it’s not really different,” he said of the team’s approach to the classics in a post-Boonen world. “We still have a strong team with different riders who can score with their own specialties. It’s different because he’s not around, but the preparation is the same.”
The Dutchman also points out that injuries forced Quick-Step to race without Boonen more than once in recent years. Although Boonen was in the mix for all of the team’s recent wins in the very biggest cobbled classics, Quick-Step did have success outside the monuments in the years he was laid low by health problems. Other riders stepped up then, so the team has reason to believe they will again now.
With all the cards the team can play, Quick-Step employs the most bona fide classics contenders of any single squad on the WorldTour. Whether that makes them the “strongest” team for the spring, however, is up for debate. Other teams with a sharper focus on a single rider have enjoyed successful spring campaigns of their own.
Terpstra is confident about his form and his team for the coming one-day frenzy, but he’s not underestimating the opposition.
“We have to prove that,” he says when asked if Quick-Step has the peloton’s strongest classics line-up. “Other teams are also really strong. On the finish line, we will see who has a strong team.”
Terpstra says he’s expecting tough competition this spring against “the usual suspects” like three-time World Champion Peter Sagan and BMC Racing’s Greg Van Avermaet, with maybe a few surprises knocking on the door as well.
Of course, Quick-Step must also contend with the hyper-scrutiny of the cycling media every spring. Considering the team’s strength on paper, the Belgian team is a popular target for criticism any time the squad does not win.
Terpstra takes it all in stride.
“In the end, it’s simple. You have to answer with the pedals,” he said. “You must not take it too much [to heart], the criticism. ‘What if I lose again? Then they’ll be angry.’ That’s the newspapers. Journalists have to write something because they have to do their job. Let them do their job and I focus on my job.”
For the past two weeks, Terpstra’s job has been slogging through the desert heat to get in his first block of racing on the year, first at the Dubai Tour and now in Oman. Having won the now-defunct Tour of Qatar back in 2015, Terpstra has enjoyed plenty of success getting his season rolling on the Arabian peninsula.
With Elia Viviani sprinting to stage victories and the overall win in Dubai and Dries Devenyns putting in a decent GC showing in Oman, Quick-Step has reason to be optimistic moving forward. The last few successful seasons have left the team with high expectations, but things are getting underway this year about as well as could be hoped with Belgium’s “opening weekend” just around the corner.