OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Quick-Step Floors has always been impressive in the classics, but for a few years there in the twilight of Tom Boonen’s career, impressive just wasn’t good enough. The biggest wins were hard to come by in 2013, and especially in 2015 and 2016. For two consecutive seasons now, however, the Belgian team has delivered the goods in its most important home race, the Tour of Flanders.
Last year it was Philippe Gilbert winning De Ronde with Niki Tersptra snagging a podium spot. In 2018, it’s Terpstra who stood atop the Flanders podium, with Gilbert celebrating from the third step.
In the post-race press conference, Terpstra was asked about playing the joker to Boonen’s ace when he won Paris-Roubaix in 2014 and being Gilbert’s foil this year. The 33-year-old Dutchman was quick to point out that it is the depth of his team that makes the difference.
“It’s not only Boonen and Gilbert. It’s the whole team with quality behind it,” Terpstra said. “Sometimes you give some and sometimes you get something back. Last year, for example, I was third over here and I was the [foil] for Gilbert who was in front. The whole year around I tried to be a good teammate. Now, the luck was on my side and all the work I put into the team, I’ve got it back now.”
Just as in E3 Harelbeke and Dwars door Vlaanderen, where an abundance of Quick-Step riders in the pack allowed lone Quick-Steppers to solo away with impunity, the win was a definite team effort on Sunday. Tim Declercq, Florian Sénéchal, and Iljo Keisse spent the early goings hammering at the front, Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Stybar launched mid-race attacks to soften things up before Terpstra’s move, and Gilbert was mostly glued to the wheel of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) during the chase.
Team manager Patrick Lefevere has always stressed the importance of buying into the team’s philosophy. For any of the younger riders on the team with uncertainty about whether the chances will ever come, Terpstra’s Flanders victory is a fine example of the give-and-take model working as expected.
It’s also an example of a team strategy working about as well as could be hoped. As much as teams prepare for their major targets, once the rubber hits the road, pre-race plans often get tossed out the window. Even in grand tour bunch sprints, where lead-out men are often designated to specific positions in the train in front of a team’s sprinter, instances of lead-outs being executed exactly according to plan are rare.
It’s even harder to stick to the script on the cobbles in the rain. Quick-Step made it work anyway on Sunday. Terpstra said after his Flanders victory that while the exact timing of his move was an on-the-fly decision, the overarching strategy panned out just as the squad hoped it would.
“The final attack was not planned, but how we did it the whole day was planned. The start was fast. We knew all the teams would watch us and of course they would do that because we did pretty well the last races,” he said. “We used this to keep the race going, to keep the speed high. If you reacted to an attack, the bunch reacted to us. That kept it going and going and going. That’s what made the race hard. And that’s good for us.
“In the final, there was the group of [Dylan] van Baarle and [Sebastien] Langeveld and [Mads] Pedersen. If we had to chase, you lose a lot of force, so we decided to attack, attack, attack, to keep that group going and maybe have a good counterattack. Stybar made a really good attack on the Kruisberg and the group took him and then I went on the attack with [Vincenzo] Nibali.”
All that said, Terpstra is not merely the beneficiary of strong teammates. His massive motor has been on full display this spring. He got away from the main race favorites at E3 alongside Lampaert. He then left Lampaert behind when the Belgian couldn’t match his pace and soloed on to victory. At E3 Harelbeke, once he was clear, not even a favorite-filled chase group could put a significant dent into his gap.
In short, Terpstra should not be underestimated as a classics specialist. He certainly wasn’t underestimating himself on Sunday, going clear from some 26 kilometers out knowing he’d likely be relying on his own legs for the rest of the way.
“I expected to be alone or together with Nibali, and after that, I expected to be faster than the front group,” he said. “They worked really well together to keep me behind on the downhill, but on the Kwaremont I saw that I could make a better pace than them.”
With Flanders in the bag, Quick-Step will now look ahead to Paris-Roubaix, where Terpstra is a former champion. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Lefevere’s team puts the eggs into another basket next Sunday, however. Gilbert has made no secret of his desire to add Roubaix to his impressive career palmares. Having achieved what he called a “lifelong dream” of winning both Flanders and Roubaix, Terpstra could very well defer to Gilbert’s ambition in northern France. Or Stybar’s, or Lampaert’s for that matter.
Quick-Step isn’t the only team that talks the all-for-one and one-for-all talk. It’s a feel-good party line espoused by plenty of other teams on the WorldTour, men’s and women’s. That doesn’t mean those teams can make it work, however. Quick-Step, at least for the moment, is having success walking the walk as well.
Until the team starts struggling to pull off monumental victories, expect that to continue.