There can be little argument that Omega Pharma-Quick Step have been the team of the first three months of this season. They have won more races than any other team, including overall victories at both the Tour de San Luis (Levi Leipheimer) and the Tour of Qatar (Tom Boonen). So, in a squad which boasts top Classics specialists such as Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel, it came as little surprise that an OPQS rider should win the cobbled Belgian semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen. However, it was Dutchman Niki Terpstra who laid claim to the top step of the podium after a long solo attack, taking the biggest win of his career.
Dwars door Vlaanderen traditionally marks the beginning of a week and a half of Flandrian races which includes Gent-Wevelgem and the Three Days of De Panne before culminating in the one-day classic Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen). The 200km race is run over some of the toughest roads Belgium has to offer and takes in a total of 13 hills, all but one in the second half of the parcours, with five in the final 36km alone. It is a race which in theory offers an opportunity for the pure sprinters, but more often than not favours a strong-man rouleur or puncheur.
The peloton had remained together over the predominantly flat first 100km, but a 13-man break finally went away as they approached the second berg of the day, the Kattenberg, after 104km. Terpstra and teammate Chavanel were quick to bridge the gap, and then the French national champion attacked on the next climb, the Leberg, which eventually produced an eight-man group including Terpstra, Maarten Wynants (Rabobank), Jan Ghyselinck (Cofidis), Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Vincent Jerome (Europcar), Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank) and Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale). The breakaway built a lead of two minutes before the Vacansoleil-led peloton started to make inroads. By the eighth hill, Knockteberg, with 43km left the advantage was down to around 1:30.
However, as the leaders approached the Paterberg with around 34km remaining Terpstra broke free with only Wallays in pursuit. But the Belgian could not cope with Terpstra’s pace and was quickly dropped, leaving him to ride solo over the final climbs to victory. Chavanel dutifully sat passively in the group to cover his teammate’s getaway as a group of five from behind joined the remaining seven from the original break. And when 1t4i’s Koen de Kort launched an attack off the front of the coalesced chase group with 4km left, Chavanel marked his move and then whipped past him comfortably at the finish to claim an OPQS one-two and mark them out as the team to beat as the peloton heads for the major Classics over the coming weeks.
Terpstra, a former Dutch national champion, had previous form in this race, having finished third in 2010. His only previous major victory was a stage at the 2009 Criterium du Dauphine, so he was understandably delighted to have won here:
For me, it’s the best victory ever together with the 2010 national road championship. Today I had super strong legs; going solo was something I have done in the past, so I know it is possible to finish in a great solo like today. It was a good moment for me before the big Classics.
World champion Mark Cavendish was a late entrant to the race after his travails at Milan-San Remo on Saturday, ahead of Gent-Wevelgem this weekend. He had already missed out on the critical break when he was felled by a bottle discarded by another rider. Although he did remount to finish, he was understandably less than amused:
200km on Belgiums worst roads. All ok. 15km from finish, peloton’s riding easy & a dickhead throws a bottle in my front wheel. Crashed hard.
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) March 21, 2012
The next stop for many of today’s riders will be either Friday’s E3 Harelbeke or Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. (Previews of both to follow in the next couple of days.) Classics season has well and truly begun!
1. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 4:30:01
2. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:47
3. Koen de Kort (Project 1t4i) same time
4. Jan Ghyselinck (Cofidis) +0:51
5. Alexandre Pichot (Cofidis) +0:53
6. Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) +1:00
7. Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) +1:05
8. Maarten Wynants (Rabobank) +1:16
9. Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t
10. Jens Keukeleire (GreenEDGE) s/t
Link: Official website