ROUBAIX, France (VN) — When Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) heard over the crackle of race radio that he had the freedom to attack as a dozen top riders powered toward the velodrome, he didn’t hesitate.
Omega Pharma had three riders in the select group, and they were saving team captain Tom Boonen for a sprint finale, so Terpstra and teammate Zdenek Stybar were given the green light to go. With just over 6km remaining, Terpstra punched the accelerator, and Paris-Roubaix quickly became a race for second place.
“As soon as I heard that, I didn’t wait 20 seconds. I just went full gas, like I like to do,” Terpstra said. “It was not clear how much of a margin I had. I knew I was in the front, and when I looked behind, I saw I had a good gap. I didn’t look back again, because you know they’re coming. I wasn’t sure I was going to win until reaching the velodrome.”
Omega Pharma played the numbers again, and after being frustrated throughout this year’s spring classics, it paid off.
They came up short at E3 Harelbeke and Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), settling for less when only victory counts on a team like Omega Pharma.
The pressure was on Sunday for the big win in the last shot at redemption.
“Yes, there was pressure, not only from the outside, but also from inside the team. We are motivated to do it,” Terpstra said. “We have won a lot of races, but not a big one. We wanted to prove we could win a big one, so it gave us a lot of motivation, especially after Flanders.”
Terpstra stayed hidden away for much of the race, hiding behind Omega Pharma’s workers early on. He also avoided mishaps.
“I didn’t have one puncture. For the first time in Roubaix, I didn’t have any problems at all,” he said. “I was very lucky. Maybe I should go play the lottery now.”
He and Boonen ramped up the speed to produce some splits in the peloton after the Arenberg forest, but headwinds, dry road conditions, and a big group meant that the peloton kept reforming.
When Boonen bolted clear with a searing, long-distance attack at 65km to go to bridge out to a leading group, he yelled into Terpstra’s ear to go with him, but the Dutch rider hesitated, and thought he had missed his chance to win Roubaix.
“I hesitated one second too long, and then it was too late [to go with Boonen], because had I later reacted, I would take the entire peloton with me,” he said. “I thought [Boonen's early attack] was a good attack. If there was not good cooperation behind, they would have stayed away in the front.”
Terpstra then played a chess match, saving his legs as BMC and Belkin worked to reel in the Boonen group. Counter-attacks from Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) were hard to cover, but he stayed tucked in as Stybar joined a promising group.
After the Carrefour de l’Arbre, Terpstra and Boonen rejoined a leading group to create the winning pack of a dozen riders.
Everyone was strong, everyone was tired, Terpstra knew the spoils would go to the brave. So when he heard had license to attack, he didn’t hesitate a second time.
“I attacked at the right moment. The whole group was strong, every rider who was there had good legs,” Terpstra said. “It’s a stupid race, it’s too old-fashioned, but that’s what makes Roubaix so special, and why I love it so much.”
The victory is a coming of age for the 29-year-old Terpstra. Fifth in 2012, third last year, Terpstra has been knocking at the door of a big win for the past few seasons.
Victory in Dwars door Vlaanderen in a similar, late-race solo attack indicated he was in top shape. Second at Harelbeke and sixth at Flanders confirmed it.
When he bolted free with 6km, the gap kept growing. The others knew they were damned if they chased, and damned if they didn’t. Omega Pharma had the numbers, and this time it played out just right.
“It’s so satisfying, to finally win a big one,” Terpstra said. “I already had some nice victories, but they were small races. Roubaix is the biggest classic for me to win. It was pretty emotional at the finish line.”