The Etixx-QuickStep team usually has more Classics race wins in the bag by this point in the season, but 2015 has not been very fruitful so far in Northern Europe for the Belgian super-squad.
However, Patrick Lefevere’s outfit still leads the win count for 2015, with 18 victories, and its sponsors are happy. Given its Belgian roots, though, everyone would be more at ease with a classic win.
“Let’s talk again after Paris-Roubaix,” Lefevere told Cycling Weekly.
“We have still have 14 days left to win one of the bigs and we are still in the lead with the most victories for the 2015 season. I don’t have to look to the other teams, some of them have more to complain about than we do.”
On Friday in Harelbeke, just down the road from Etixx’s headquarters, Zdenek Stybar led the team in the three-man escape but had no response to Sky’s Geraint Thomas. He dropped Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and gave the team a second place.
“A tactical error? I don’t think so,” Lefevere said. “Stybar was the leader, so he was in the right breakaway, but maybe he looked too much to Sagan. Sagan is normally more a favourite than Stybar, but probably he doesn’t know him well enough to see that he was dead. Also, if you give Thomas 10 metres, you’ve lost.”
British sprinter Mark Cavendish gave the team its only classic win so far in the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. The day before, on February 28, Sky’s Ian Stannard faced and conquered three Etixx cyclists for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory.
Ian Stannard talks about his against-the-odds Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory
In Milan-San Remo, Cavendish’s chain fell off at a crucial moment, and Stybar and World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski crashed on the descent of the Poggio. Three days later in Waregem, Belgium, Kwiatkowski appeared the strongest in Dwars door Vlaanderen, but was out-manoeuvred by teams Topsport and Cannondale.
Lefevere shook his head with the mention of Dwars. He said, “We see cycling with fear, fear to lose or fear to win.”
Niki Terpstra won Dwars in 2014 and went on to win Paris-Roubaix two and a half weeks later. The Dutchman and Czech champion Stybar will lead Etixx in the remaining northern classics: Ghent-Wevelgem tomorrow, the Tour of Flanders on April 5 and Paris-Roubaix on April 12.
Cavendish will be back, of course, for the mid-week Scheldeprijs classic on April 8.
“Don’t forget,” added Lefevere, “Tom Boonen normally is the leader of the team and we lost him.”
Boonen crashed in Paris-Nice stage one and dislocated his shoulder. Given the blow, Etixx has picked up the pieces nicely. Without ‘Tommeke’ it can still rely on several strong riders like Stybar and Terpstra.
“I won’t complain, we aren’t the only team who had bad luck. Look at team Trek, they only had one leader, Fabian Cancellara, and they lost him. On paper, they are more damaged than we are,” continued Lefevere.
“My sponsors are already happy with what we’ve done. We are there and we are playing an important role since the first race of the season. From Dubai to Paris-Nice, we’ve been playing for the wins.
“We are still in a winning mood, but just missing out. Maybe it’ll happen on Sunday in Ghent-Wevelgem or the week after.”