E3 Harelbeke: Etixx - Quick-Step Put Two on the Podium
Etixx - Quick-Step rider Zdenek Stybar finished 2nd to Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), who attacked Stybar and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) with about 4 kilometers to go, as the trio remained ahead of a chasing group by about 40 seconds.
The three riders went away on the Oude Kwaremont, with Thomas leading the acceleration and Stybar on his wheel. Sagan soon bridged, and they passed Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling) who was the last rider who remained ahead out of an original six-rider breakaway. They held their advantage and eventually decided the race.
Matteo Trentin finished 3rd to round out the podium out of the group that finished behind Thomas winning solo, and Stybar in 2nd about 25" down. Sagan had lost contact and was caught by the Trentin group before the group sprinted to the line.
Etixx - Quick-Step kept several riders in the group behind Stybar, and put themselves in good position going into the key point of the race before Stybar went off the front with his two break mates.
"The team worked perfectly for me today," Stybar said. "My teammates brought me to the front going into the Oude Kwaremont. The group was pretty together at that point, so we knew something would happen then and for sure some guys would ride away. Thomas went, I took over on the Kwaremont, and on the top we were ahead with only three. We immediately found a good rhythm together. The last 15 kilometers were really hard, it was all headwind. But OK, we were riding well with maybe some energy left in reserves. I think it was possible for us to speed up if the peloton came closer. With four kilometers to go, Thomas went. He went really fast and Sagan didn't really react. I hesitated for maybe two seconds too long and the race was over. I was very disappointed in that moment because I felt I could win today. But it is what it is. That's cycling. I'm happy with my podium place and have to think about the upcoming races. I'm also encouraged that Matteo was able to win the sprint behind me. It shows we have a strong team that is always in the actions and can do well in different situations of the Classics."
"I saw Oss going full gas going on the Taaienberg and at that point in the race, that is normally when a group of eight, ten, sometimes more riders go away from the peloton," Trentin said. "Then the race can change constantly after that point. With all the hills ahead, if you are in a small group, there is maybe a little less stress even if you are pulling a little bit. But it didn't work at the time I went with a small group. There was only four riders ahead and we knew Katusha was pulling behind, and also Lotto. So we waited for them to catch us. Then by the time we got to the Oude Kwaremont I paid a little bit for the efforts I did earlier. In this race you pay for everything you do. I was in front at that point but I was losing position after position. I tried at that point to hang on and then we came back with a group of 10 guys on the first group. As for the sprint, the guys did a good job. We started in the last kilometer because we had Stybar in the front. We stayed in good position in anticipation. Then the last kilometer Stijn Vandenbergh started going full gas, then Yves Lampaert made the leadout for me and it was perfect. To beat guys like Alexander Kristoff in the field sprint is something good and says something great about my condition. This is my first podium in Belgium and I proved I can be there in this race and the actions of the Northern Classics. "
"I think we did a great job," Sport Director Tom Steels said. "The team still had five riders in the main group and the other three had to work during the race. So, those who had to be there were there, at the moment there was an acceleration, we were there. We never missed an important breakaway and in the end we had Stybar as one of the leaders in the front. So, I think we did a good job between the riders protecting the advantage of Stybar in the front and then we won the sprint of the chasing group. Overall I think the team executed well today. We expected Stybar to try and be in front today and he did it. Stybar is a guy who won Strade Bianche and he had a good performance at Tirreno-Adriatico. He is ready for this period as demonstrated today, so things are perfect. It's a shame Tom isn't here of course. In his place for the guy we saved for the sprint it was Matteo, and he won the field sprint behind against some top sprinters. I think this is important for his confidence, and also the confidence of the team, that we have a rider who can contest the victory from a bunch sprint. E3 Harebleke will be important for our morale in the next races."