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Etixx-Quick-Step Manager Patrick Lefevere called the team's E3 Harelbeke rivals "cowards" for not cooperating yesterday in Belgium.
His team had the numbers, but they could not reel in the attack of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and the eventual winner, Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky). Behind, Etixx riders Matteo Trentin, Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Zdenek Stybar placed 12th to 15th. .
"Were the other teams just racing for WorldTour points? BMC Racing? I don't want to name them, it was not only BMC," Lefevere said when journalists gathered at the team bus asking why Belgium's top team could not do better.
"If you're a rider with a number one on your back then you should be a leader. I didn't see leaders, I only saw cowards."
Sky's Geraint Thomas won in 2015, but Lefevere's team have dominated past editions and delivered star Belgian Tom Boonen to a record five wins.
Etixx did well to control the race up until Sagan and Kwiatkowski's attack at 31 kilometres. Trentin and Stybar tried to follow, but could not. The gap grew to a half-minute while Etixx tried to organise a chase.
"The whole team was riding very well. At a certain moment we had six of the 25 leaders, then four of the 15, so we were the strongest team, but we didn't win," Lefevere added.
"The two best were in the front, but we were the only team chasing. We knew that if we didn't chase then we couldn't make a result."
Watch Sky's Sports Director discuss the team's E3 win
Stannard marked his rivals with his team-mate up the road, but questions were raised why Trek and BMC Racing refused to contribute more. Afterwards, nearly 20 journalists circled Belgium's classics king on the road after the finish line.
"They all seemed afraid to make any unnecessary pull on the front," Boonen explained. "I expected cooperation, but other teams only rode half-heartedly for third place. It's stupid because they were in the same situation as us. You don't hang off the back for third place.
>>>Watch: Tom Boonen on brink of Classics history
"We had four men in the front, but we have to control how we handle it. The position we were forced into wasn't good. The other teams watched, they have the right to do so, but we have to avoid being in such a position."
E3 Harelbeke holds importance to Etixx both as a WorldTour race and as an established Belgian classic, but not as much as the upcoming monuments, the Tour of Flanders next Sunday and Paris-Roubaix the following Sunday.
"We will approach Ghent-Wevelgem [tomorrow] the same way," Lefevere added. "This was one of the battles, but it's not like we lost the war."
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