LEAVE EVERYTHING ON THE ROAD
The race, as expected, breaks up over the two climbs. On the face of it, it might also not be much of a surprise that it’s the Quick-Step team which has taken a hatchet to the peloton, chopping it up into several pieces. On the other hand, their team leader Fernando Gaviria is the defending champion and one of the best sprinters in the world – fans might have expected the team to keep it together for Gaviria, rather than attempt to foil a sprint.
But Gaviria’s had no luck. The rumours swirling around his team hotel the evening before the race were that he’d been having a lot of work done by the physios on a sore knee. Furthermore, a crash in the final 15 kilometres put him on the ground at the most crucial point of the race – he had chased and caught the back of the peloton, but then it split again in front of him. There would be a new winner this year.
Gaviria’s team-mate Matteo Trentin attacks on the Beau Soleil, dragging five riders with him, including Quick-Step’s Maximiliano Richeze. On the descent, Niki Terpstra, also a Quick-Step rider, detaches himself from the front of the strung-out peloton and starts to cross the gap to Trentin’s group. The Côte de l’Épan splits both front group and chase group, leaving Trentin and Sunweb’s Søren Kragh Andersen at the front, and Terpstra moving up into the space behind them.
It takes Terpstra a long time to close the gap, and by the time he makes it, with six kilometres to go, the leading trio are still only 50 metres clear of their pursuers. There isn’t much discussion – Terpstra does most of the work at the front, and it is enough to take Trentin into a position from which he can easily win the sprint against Kragh Andersen. Terpstra finishes on the podium in third.
The evening before the race at the Quick Step hotel, Terpstra explained that, to him, what was just as important as the team getting a good result, was that he wanted to finish the race tired, to feel that he had given everything for his final run-out of the season. After the presentation, he packs his flowers and suitcase into a private car behind the team bus, and reflects on his race.
“I managed to make myself tired at the end,” he laughs. “When it started raining, I knew the race would be more difficult. Everybody was fresh, because the race had been relatively easy, but at the end the kilometres, the hills and the corners counted and the race exploded. I was a few positions behind the split, but I could cross the gap.”
Terpstra says that the tactical conversation between the two Quick Step riders had been a short one. “We had no choice. If we lost this, it would look ridiculous. I just went all out in the last kilometre and we trusted Matteo’s sprint.”
Quick-Step are just waiting for one more rider, winner Trentin, before they can pack up and go. And there he is, ducking and diving through traffic on roads that are already opening up again. He speeds past, weaving his bike through narrow gaps like a commuter, his day’s work done.