File this under that favorite pro cycling cliche, Cards To Play.
In winning the time trial, two stages total and taking the overall lead in the Belgium of the Desert, the Tour of Qatar, Niki Terpstra served notice that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the up-coming Spring classics.
Last season Terpstra came of of the desert smoking hot and proceeded to out-perform his star teammate Tom Boonen once it was classics time. He took 1st Dwars door Vlaanderen, 1st in Paris–Roubaix and 2nd in E3 Harelbeke.
In the Hell of the North he benefitted from having Boonen in the front group and then made the decisive move to win the race. He was overjoyed, Tom, not so much.
If we’re Boonen, we play the supportive Etixx-Quick-Step teammate and say this is great, we’ll have plenty of cards to play at Flanders and Roubaix.
That’s the public story because inside Boonen is thinking, “oh shit, not again.”
This sport is too hard and heart-breaking and pressure-filled for him to play second fiddle again. He wants to be the only card in the deck and for the Etixx-Quick-Step strategy to revolve around him and how to beat Fabian Cancellara. Is that too much to ask Mr. Lefevere for all these years of start service?
Boonen wants to hoist the rock again, for the fifth time, breaking the record of sourpuss Roger De Vlaeminck. Terpstra is a great ally and a dangerous obstacle.
The rise of Mr. Terpstra is a complication that isn’t exactly thrilling for Boonen who had a generally disappointing year last season. Expectations ratchet up and Boonen, now 34 and looking even older with his balding head, needs to deliver something big sooner rather than later.
There will be nothing but rosy spin coming from team manager Patrick Lefevere about tactical options. He’d rather have Boonen win for the media boost but he’ll take a victory from anybody on the roster at Flanders and Roubaix.
Cards to play is a good news, bad news scenario. We’ll see how it works out for Boonen in a few months.