New course turns the French Classic into a lottery, with a series of punctures making the difference at the 112th edition.
Quick-Step Floors were prominent from the beginning at Paris-Tours (214.5 kilometers), the penultimate major one-day race of the season, moving to the front of the peloton and setting a hard tempo as soon as the six escapees who went up the road stretched out their advantage to three minutes. Our riders, with the help of two other teams, brought back the gap to less than a minute before the first of the day's nine gravel road sectors, just one of this edition's novelties.
With 60 kilometers to go, the bunch was already split to pieces, mainly due to the numerous flats, the elite group numbering around twenty men, including a strong Quick-Step Floors delegation. On the small hill leading onto the third unpaved segment, Niki Terpstra accelerated and was joined by a handful of riders, including teammate and double winner Philippe Gilbert, who unfortunately was hit by bad luck, an untimely puncture forcing him to drop from the group and ruining any chance of fighting for a third Paris-Tours victory.
Inside the final 40 kilometers, Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) attacked only for Niki Terpstra to respond with superb ease. The duo worked well together and opened a 30-second lead over a group from which Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R) jumped clear and bridged across, while further behind, Philippe Gilbert put in an amazing pursuit race despite being more than one minute adrift at one point and managed to join the first chasing group by the time they left behind all the difficulties of the day.
The winning move was made 11 kilometers from home, when Andersen accelerated and built a 20-second gap which couldn't be erased by Niki despite his best efforts. The 34-year-old Dutchman eventually concluded in second, after outsprinting the young Frenchman on Avenue de Grammont, where he netted Quick-Step Floors' 140th podium of the season. He was joined in the top 10 by Philippe, who came home 50 seconds later and took eighth from a small group.
"I really wanted to win this race and finish off in style with the team that has shaped me as a rider over the last eight years. I worked well together with Kragh Andersen, but Cosnefroy made it confusing as he refused to take part in the work. When Andersen attacked I hesitated for a second and he quickly built a gap, showing how strong he was by going all the way. At the end of the day, I am happy to be again on in the top 3 of this tough and demanding race, just like last year", said Terpstra, the only active rider with three podium finishes at Paris-Tours.
For Niki, this was the last representation in the jersey of Quick-Step Floors – a team for which he wrote history ever since joining it in 2011, by winning Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, E3 Harelbeke, Dwars door Vlaanderen twice and four gold medals at the World Team Time Trial Championships as part of a well-drilled squad that in past decade has become one of the most successful in the history of the sport – and he didn't waste any time in showing the same determination, hunger for success and fighting spirit as in those last eight years.
"I am still uplifted though and think this season has been a fantastic one, the World TTT Title in Innsbruck serving as a beautiful ending of this cycling chapter I have been writing for Quick-Step Floors since 2011. I will miss the amazing atmosphere, my teammates and all the staff I have worked with during these fantastic years. There's a special and unique feeling in the team, the will to win is like nowhere else and I have enjoyed an environment where I've been able to stay relaxed and focus on doing what I love. It's a team I will never forget", an emotional Niki concluded in Tours.
Photo credit: ©Vincent Kalut / Photonews.be