Friday 25 March 2016 - 19:57

Strong display of Etixx – Quick-Step in E3 Harelbeke

Strong display of Etixx – Quick-Step in E3 Harelbeke

Our riders showed a great team spirit and fought till the very end in the first cobbled World Tour race of the season.

The 59th edition of E3 Harelbeke included 15 climbs, but the first to make a real difference was Taaienberg, the day's seventh hill. Just 650 meters long, Taaienberg averages 9.5%, and that's where Etixx – Quick-Step put the hammer down and forced an important selection. Only 10 riders made the cut, four of them coming from our team, and they continued to ride full gas in order to keep the gap and reel in the eight escapees: Bert De Backer (Giant-Alpecin), Antoine Demoitie (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Nico Denz (AG2R), Reto Hollenstein (IAM Cycling), Tony Hurel (Direct Energie), Jay Robert Thomson (Dimension Data), Sjoerd van Ginneken (Roompot Oranje) and Wouter Wippert (Cannondale).

With the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) – who suffered a mechanical – and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who was dropped on the climb, missing that important move, Etixx – Quick-Step gave it all at the front, but unfortunately it didn't get any help from the other teams, who were content to stay in the group as three-time ITT World Champion Tony Martin and Stijn Vandenbergh pushed a frantic pace on the arduous hills of Flanders and left it all on the road, in an attempt to make sure the riders who were behind won't come back.

Missing from the group in the key moment of the race was Zdenek Stybar, because of a puncture, but in the end he came back, just as the junction was made between the first two groups. After Oude Kwaremont, on Karnemelkbeekstraat, Peter Sagan attacked and was soon joined by Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), and the two of them powered away and opened a 30-second gap. Etixx – Quick-Step returned at the front of the group, with Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar doing some huge pulls and clawing back more than 20 seconds on the two leaders. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough, and as a result, Kwiatkowski and Sagan fought for the win, which was netted by the Pole. The group came 11 seconds later, Niki being the best placed Etixx – Quick-Step rider there, in 12th.

"Our team sticked together at all times, was really united and did a good race. We were a real team. When Sagan and Kwiatowski went, we tried to go there with Matteo and Styby, but we came a few meters too short. Then we started to pull to close the gap, but we were alone in the chase, and Sagan and Kwiatkowski are great riders, it's not easy to catch them back. We didn't get any cooperation from the other teams, which was awkward, because the race was still open with 18 km to go", said Tom Boonen, who holds the all-time record for most wins in E3 Harelbeke, with 5 victories.

The Belgian, riding here for the 12th time in his career, continued: "In the final kilometers I worked for Matteo to try to go for the sprint with him, but it didn't work out as we expected. I think we have to analyze a bit the race, in order to avoid arriving in the future at the finale with all the other teams looking at us. We really have to avoid this situation. Concerning me, I'm happy about my race. It was my best race of the year, but I can improve. I know myself. I feel I'm on the right road and I know that in the next two weeks I can be better."

Tom's feelings and comments were echoed by the ones of sport director Tom Steels: "We tried to make the race hard, and reached this goal with the help of Tony and Lukasz. Unfortunately, we lost Styby because of a flat tire on the Eikenberg. We had to control the race in the last two hours, and Stijn and Tony did an amazing job by pulling hard and making the life of the riders who came back really tough. On the Karnemelkbeekstraat, we came only five meters short. Those five meters made the difference. It wasn't impossible to bring Michal and Peter back, but we couldn't do it, because the other teams didn't feel the need to collaborate with us. I found that very strange, to see that they were defensive and didn't want to be more aggressive. We gave it all out there, but couldn't do all the work, and that was that in the end."


Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele

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