• Niki Terpstra (L) and Tom Boonen in 2017. (Getty)Source: Getty
It almost feels like this should be whispered, a small offering of sacrilege after the holiest of weekends on the cycling calendar. Quick-Step Floors are better in 2018, without Tom Boonen.
Jane Aubrey

Cycling Central
3 Apr 2018 - 11:59 AM  UPDATED 3 Apr 2018 - 12:33 PM

Boonen, world champion, Tour de France green jersey winner, a four-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, a three-time winner of De Ronde, party boy and crushed on by men and women alike.

‘Tommeke’ was the heir-apparent to Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere’s other Belgian charge, Johan Museeuw. Quick-Step itself was built upon the success of merged teams Domo-Farm Frites and Mapei – two giants who claimed all but one Paris-Roubaix between 1995 and 2000.

Boonen left US Postal in search of more opportunities, and he found them quickly, building his enviable resume. If 2005 launched Boonen into the stratosphere with wins at E3, Flanders, Roubaix and a rainbow jersey, by 2012, he seemed to have it all, and his place in the history books was assured.

Victories came at E3 Harelbeke and then Gent-Wevelgem, ensuring his favouritism for De Ronde where he would claim win number three. Paris-Roubaix a week later gave Boonen the honours of equaling Roger de Vlaeminck’s four victories as well as becoming the first man to claim the Flanders-Roubaix double, twice.

At the same time, a power vacuum was developing within the team. No one, no matter how great their potential from cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert, Michal Kwiatkowski and even Niki Terpstra could ever shine so bright while ever Boonen was there. If Boonen wasn’t firing, the team seemed to lose its chutzpah.

The best evidence of that came at the 2015 Omloop Het Niewsblad where Ian Stannard (Sky), as strong as he is, somehow overcame Boonen, Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh. One against three. It was unthinkable and the beginning of the end.

One only needs to look at the success Quick-Step Floors is enjoying in 2018 for evidence that Lefevere has the balance right. With Terpstra’s win at De Ronde, four years on from his first win at Roubaix, Quick-Step Floors has now racked up 21 victories for the season.

It seemed assured that the Belgian team would prevail on Sunday, it was just a matter of which member of the ‘wolfpack’ would prevail. Tim Declercq, Iljo Keisse and Florian Sénéchal laid the foundations. Stybar was threatening between 50 and 100km to go, Lampaert monitored the front of the bunch, and Gilbert kept an eye on Sagan.

Terpstra’s move came with the inevitable attack of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) ahead of the third ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, time trialling to victory. The team is stronger together. There’s no second thought to ‘what about Tom?’ Or Philippe or Zdenek or Yves for that matter. It just works.

Terpstra again proved there’s something about the E3 - Flanders double, his efforts this year the sixth time since 2005 that it’s been achieved. Fabian Cancellara the only man to upset Quick-Step’s dominance there too, in 2010 and 2013.

The Belgian press would hang on Boonen’s every word n, and it resulted in stories from the sublime to the ridiculous. Never has a saddle sore received as much attention as what Boonen’s did in 2011 at the Vuelta.

When it’s possible to shine in even the most cringe-worthy of circumstances, it makes it harder for your teammates, and this is perhaps a factor in the likeability of someone like Terpstra.

The Dutchman has garnered a reputation as being somewhat arrogant, maybe even a bore. His win at Roubaix wasn’t a fluke with two wins at the Dwars door Vlaanderen; he’s a genuine contender that makes him as big a threat as Gilbert, Greg van Avermaet or Peter Sagan.

Maybe now, without Boonen’s shadow, Terpstra and the rest of the ‘wolfpack’ can stand alone.