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Paris- Roubaix: What went wrong for Quick Step?
By Staff
Date: 4/14/2003
Paris- Roubaix: What went wrong for Quick Step?

By Nick Bull

Johan Museeuw must be wondering what went wrong. He loves Paris Roubaix, even though his accident in the Forêt d’Arenberg in 1998 nearly ended his career. He had trained for Roubaix. He was the favourite for Roubaix.

Patrick Lefevre must feel the same. His teams have won the six of the last seven “Hell Of The North” races, so when he was selecting the riders to ride for him in the new Belgian “superteam” in the months leading up to 2003, one of the things he made sure of was that he had the people who would support the Lion of Flanders in this race. At the start in Compiègne, Museeuw lined up alongside Tom Boonen, last year’s revelation in this event, Wilfried Cretskens, who is an excellent domestique, and Servais Knaven, the winner for Domo in 2001. Franck Vandenbroucke was another Quick Step contender.

The team’s bad luck struck after 102km. It was that man Boonen - tipped by many to fair well in this race - who was delayed in a crash. Along with Max Van Heeswijk (US Postal), he made a group who were a handful of seconds behind the main pack, who were being lead by Rabobank. They saw this as a good attempt to raise the speed of the main pack. Boonen was forced to chase, and his chances of a high finish were gone, and he knew it. Speaking after the race, the Belgian said, "We (Quick Step) had a lot of bad luck. I crashed before even the first cobble section. I sprained a muscle and I had the tears in my eyes. It was a real chaos in our team: a very fast race and very hard to control."

The second blow to Museeuw’s chances of winning came after around three hours of riding. Vandenbroucke was complaining of having pains in his left thigh. This was a blow, especially as the rider had missed Ghent Wevelgem in order to prepare for this race. But despite this, one sensed, the Quick Step team were still the favourites for the win in the Velodrome. Despite VDB’s abandonment, it was still perfectly poised for the team: David Bramati was in the leading group whose lead was around 3’30 minutes as they entered the Arenberg Forest with less than 100 kilometres left to race. From this point onwards, their gap decreased, keeping the favourites in contention. For Museeuw, this was as good as it could be. As he led the main bunch along the Arenberg Forest, his face was showing little stains of tiredness. But still he rode, stamping on the pedals, driving the pack along the cobbles. Andrea Tafi, Peter Van Petegem were just behind, perhaps sensing a Quick Step onslaught.

On the Hornaing à Wandignies-Hamage cobbles section, Tafi attacked. Not surprisingly it was Museeuw who marked the Italian, making sure he didn’t gain any significant advantage. The Lion of Flanders was looking stronger by the minute.

But then, on the next section of cobbles - at Warlaing - he punctured. For Tafi, the World Cup leader Van Petegem and all the other outsiders to win this classic, this was ideal. Without hesitation, the Italian rode to the head of the peloton and drove the pack on.

Soon the leading group were caught by the first group, which contained Pieri, Ekimov, Van Heeswijk as well as Tafi and Van Petegem. The only consolation for Quick Step was that Davide Bramati was still in the leading group. The gap to Museeuw was increasing. The puncture had ruined his race. Strangely, punctures are commonplace in this event. Who would have thought that, with 70km left and the help from Servais Knaven, Museeuw would not have bridged the gap back to the main bunch?

Things became clearer with around 10 kilometers to go: the Television shots showed Max van Heeswijk patting the thrice winner of Paris Roubaix on the back, at the Carrefour de l’Arbre cobbles section. From then on, the pair rode together. However, Museeuw was riding at a slow pace. He was a beaten man. He knew that his dreams of winning this race for the third time were gone, aware of that fact that he was not the strongest man out on the course today. But he was not going to give up. What would everyone think of him? His puncture with 6km left was the final straw. He had definitely had enough now. But again he ploughed on; taking in the support he was receiving from the fans. He was riding for them now.

In the Velodrome, 2001 winner Knaven came in with the remains of the leading group, finishing in seventh place. Perhaps he might have finished in a higher position, had he not have had to work for Johan. Boonen came in two and a half minutes behind Van Petegem, exhausted. The crowd then had to wait another two minutes to see the man they thought would be the first to ride in the Velodrome. Alongside him was Bramati, who could not handle the pace once the leading group he was part of was caught. Because Museeuw’s bad luck, the pair found themselves in the same group and rode together in the final moments of the race.

Afterwards, the Lion of Flanders described what was in his mind. His speech was very reflective; the words of a man who is probably looking forward now that the race he wanted to win went terribly wrong.

Lefevre also was looking back on the race: “This had to happen some day. It's easier to lose than to win.”

He is not wrong, and Paris Roubaix 2003 showed that the favourites will not win every time.

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