Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra had two things going for him in today’s Record Bank E3 Prijs classic — a stacked team and a great pair of legs — and which one you want to give the Dutch rider’s victory to is a matter of taste. Terpstra emerged alone after a dual break with teammate Yves Lampaert, and with his history of events such as Paris-Roubaix on his resume of strong solo efforts, it was no big deal for him to finish off the final 30km just ahead of 11 elite chasers.
Of course there is nothing easy about a solo win, but it was made far easier by the fact that Terpstra could count on his team bludgeoning the chase efforts behind him, all the way to the finish, a point driven home with no mercy whatsoever when Philippe Gilbert skipped away to take the sprint for second ahead of last year’s winner Greg Van Avermaet.
As much as Terpstra deserves the credit, the story for most of the day was how Quick Step simply bossed the entire race. The weakness of Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan limited the opportunities for someone to slow down the home country’s top team, with too many other squads lacking the depth to do much about the Blue Bunch.
The key move happened about where you’d expect: the Taaienberg. It seemed uneventful at first, with the race already scrambled by an earlier split in the peloton caused by a large slow-motion crash at the race’s halfway point. The front group was driven by Quick Step, who’d been hitting the gas before the crash and didn’t show much mercy for those (Sep Vanmarcke and Oliver Naesen included) who got caught up behind. They managed a 1.30 advantage coming into the Taaienberg.
But as the first major cobbled climb wore on, the blue armada at the front suddenly split with Terpstra and Lampaert riding away and the first cards of the race having been played. Emerging from the shattered peloton was a chase group of Peter Sagan, Tiesj Benoot, Avermaet, Zdenek Stybar and Gilbert, with Benoot the workhorse. Van Avermaet gave them the slip briefly on Mariaborrestraat’s cobbles, but Gilbert and Benoot tracked him down, leaving three chasing two, and the peloton scooping up a sluggish Sagan to do the chasing.
The leading duo had nearly 50 seconds over the Paterberg and 1.20 on the peloton. Lampaert began to struggle but hung on over the Oude Kwaremont, while the peloton split once Sagan had to let go of a wheel. That left the third group powered by Jasper Stuyven a minute back of the lead, with Vanmarcke and Naesen among them. By the Karnemelkbeekstraat climb at the 30km mark, the Stuyven group was mere seconds back of Benoot and company, when Gilbert jumped, attempting to bridge to his teammates. It proved a bit too ambitious, and within a few minutes he sat up and waited for what was now a united chase of the Stuyven pack and Benoot and Van Avermaet.
By then, Lampaert’s elastic snapped and Terpstra was alone. It was one against a dozen with some 30km left. Stuyven tried to attack the group on the Tiegemberg, but to no avail. Quick Step’s dominance of the chase group made headway difficult, and Gilbert sat close to the front, ready to pounce on anything that got away. Terpstra steamed toward Harelbeke with 30-plus seconds in hand.
But by 8km to go the lead was under 20 seconds, and the intrigue hit a fever pitch. Van Avermaet, Stuyven and Benoot all tried attacks, but Gilbert and Stybar took turns marking them. Terpstra was in the chasers’ sights now, though, on the wide roads into Harelbeke, and with 3km remaining a dozen possibilities still remained.
In the end, though, none of the chasers was strong enough to overcome the Gordian knot of rivalries in the group, and Terpstra simply ground it out to the finish. With 1500 meters to go, it was a race for second. And of course it was the rider with the most left in the tank, Philippe Gilbert, who took that, just ahead of Van Avermaet.
Terpstra is quickly ascending the all-time list of great Dutch Klassikoers, adding E3 to two wins in Dwars door Vlaanderen and of course Paris-Roubaix. He has two podium finishes at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, including third last year, so his rise to true Dutch royalty is maybe there for him if he can manage. And if the team tactics continue to weigh in his favor. Whatever happens next, you can bet that Quick Step will have a major say.
1 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors 5:04:18
2 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
3 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
4 Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale
5 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal
6 Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
7 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
8 Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky
9 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors
10 Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team