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E3 Harelbeke: Empty-handed Etixx calls out rivals

HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Etixx – Quick-Step lost E3 Harelbeke on Friday, but it was not for lack of trying. Team boss Patrick Lefevere says that rival outfits were not riding to win, and their stars were not shining brightly on the Flemish farm roads.

The Belgian super-team saw Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) ride clear with 30 kilometers remaining on the Karnemelkbeekstraat climb. The former won over the current world champion in small, but rowdy Belgian city of Harelbeke.

Etixx’s best result was 12th with Italian Matteo Trentin. With his riders in the bus and the top three celebrating on the podium, Lefevere blasted his rivals.

“What happened? Nothing, we were the strongest team, you saw it, but there were other teams that weren’t riding to win, but maybe only for UCI WorldTour,” Lefevere said.

“BMC Racing? I don’t want to name them, but it was not only BMC. If you have ‘1’ on your number, you are supposed to be a leader, but I didn’t see leaders today, only [riders].”

When the race exploded at 70 kilometers out on the Taaienberg climb, Etixx appeared strong and ready to win. Its star, Tom Boonen, made the race in Harelbeke his own in recent years by winning a record five times. The Belgian made the front group along with teammates Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, and Trentin. Something, misfired, however.

“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 said.

The team rode as an express train when Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) suffered a mechanical and tried to chase back. Etixx shattered the race at different monuments, but was without muscle when Kwiatkowski and Sagan attacked. They persisted and brought the time gap to the leaders down to 17 seconds at two kilometers remaining to Harelbeke. But still, the group finished 11 seconds back with Trentin in 12th, Terpstra 13th, Boonen 14th, and Stybar 15th.

“The two best were in the front, but we were the only team chasing. We knew that if we weren’t only chasing we couldn’t make a result, the only one who could was Trentin, but he was hit by someone else in the sprint. We were there as a team, but definitely the two best riders were there in the front.”

Lefevere looked ahead to Gent-Wevelgem in two days, Sunday, and to the biggest one-day race in Belgium, the Ronde van Vlaanderen next Sunday. “It’s not like we lost the war. We are going into Gent-Wevelgem in the same direction, and if we don’t win there, we will go to Flanders in the same way.”