ROUBAIX, France (VN) — After snatching wins left and right throughout the cobbled classics, the dominant team of the spring had to make do with third place at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Niki Terpstra, who won the Tour of Flanders a week ago, was Quick-Step’s best finisher.
Asked why Peter Sagan’s move was the one that worked in the end on Sunday, Terpstra was curt: “Because it was the winning move.”
The Belgian Quick-Step squad let the attacks fly from long range in the 257-kilometer race. Terpstra’s teammate Philippe Gilbert tried his luck at the Arenberg Trench. Zdenek Stybar followed that up with a move of his own. Both found daylight at first but were ultimately pinned back. Ultimately, Sagan’s attack won the day.
Sagan struck out from the favorites group with some 50 kilometers left to race. He immediately opened a hefty gap and then linked up with early breakaway survivor Silvan Dillier (Ag2r La Mondiale). The duo fended off a select group of pursuers to set up a two-man sprint in Roubaix, where Sagan won.
“I think we did a really good race but Peter Sagan attacked at the right moment,” Terpstra added. “We were really good in front the whole race — that’s why we stayed out of trouble because there was a lot of mud — but in that moment we were not in the first row. But it’s not only Quick-Step that makes the race.”
Quick-Step has acknowledged from the get-go this classics season that an aggressive approach is the only clear path to victory without an ace sprinter in the line-up. Perhaps that motivated Gilbert to go on the attack from roughly 90 kilometers out. Stybar, however, said his follow-up strike was never meant to be a solo dig.
“It was not my intention to go in that moment. We reached Phil and I was still thinking, ‘Okay, let’s go,’ but suddenly I was alone,'” he said.
Stybar said expected a small group of chasers — including Trek-Segafredo’s John Degenkolb — to bridge up to him and form a larger selection, but that did not happen.
When Sagan made his move after Stybar was caught, no one immediately reacted. Whether it was exhaustion or disorganization or a bit of both, a moment’s hesitation in the group was all the Slovakian needed.
“I think some guys were looking at us. Yeah, we still had even four guys. [Sagan] went and it was a strange moment,” Stybar said. “I saw him going but I was a bit blocked at that moment. And then you look around and you think, ‘Hey guys, Peter Sagan is going. Why is nobody reacting?’ You don’t give him even five seconds. And then it was 30 seconds and you know that it will be really hard to catch him back.”
As strong as Sagan’s initial burst was, it was not immediately apparent that he and eventual companion Dillier would stay clear to the line. Terpstra was one of several heavy hitters chasing hard in a group that also included the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac).
With 10 kilometers to go the gap was down to 45 seconds, but it crept back up to around a minute and stayed there the rest of the way home. When it became clear the chasers would be fighting for third instead of the victory, Terpstra powered off the front of the group to earn the final spot on the Roubaix podium.
The Dutchman, who did spend ample time driving the pace in the pursuit group, did not have any criticism for his fellow chasers at the end of the day.
“Actually, the cooperation was pretty good. Of course, other teams looked at us to chase but in the end, we did it together,” he said. “We worked together pretty well until the last 3k I have to say but Peter was going so fast we couldn’t catch him.
“It’s pretty simple: He was just stronger.”