Professional Dutch bike racing is currently experiencing a golden generation at the height of its powers. There are potential Dutch winners in virtually every discipline: time trialists, climbers, sprinters and riders who can perform excellently in the classics. Niki Terpstra is perhaps the biggest name in the latter category, and the cool thing about him is that he truly chose his own career path. He was not a member of any of the big name development teams; he travelled his own independent path. This makes his success all the more impressive.
Breakthrough with Milram
After his debut in smaller professional teams, such as AXA and Ubbink-Syntec, Terpstra’s first big break came in 2007 when he joined the Milram team from Germany. But this wasn’t a success from the start. Terpstra was a bit of an odd one out in the team, and it wasn’t entirely clear what his speciality was. He attacked regularly but, in today’s bike racing, it’s very difficult to win with a solo attack. He was very active in the races, but his only notable achievement was winning the climber’s jersey in the Tour of Germany.
In 2009, Terpstra finally managed to convert his solo attacks into victory. In that year, he won the third stage in the prestigious Criterium du Dauphiné Libéré and, thanks to his time advantage, he also won the leader’s jersey. His then showed time trial talent that year with a victory in the prologue of the Ster Elektrotour.
Terpstra’s first big victory came in 2010 when he left Lars Boom and Pieter Weening behind in a final attack to win the Dutch National Road Race Championships, with its highly-desired jersey. That victory put him in the international spotlight and won him a contract with the Belgian Quick-Step squad.
Niki Terpstra and Quick-Step
As a member of the Quick-Step team, Terpstra was given the freedom to specialise. The timing of his arrival in the team was auspicious: at the time Tom Boonen was the number one rider in the Spring classics, but in 2012 Terpstra showed what he was made of. He won the semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen and rode top-5 in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris–Roubaix — all in the service of Tom Boonen. He also won the Dutch national championships again, and was a member of the UCI Road World Championships winning team time trial squad.
Among the greats
In the following year, Terpstra showed he was just getting better and better. He climbed the podium in Paris-Roubaix, taking third place. In 2014, he rode himself back into the history books. During that year’s edition of Paris–Roubaix, he broke away from a leading group of big names and rode solo over the finish line. This was the first time since 2001 that a Dutchman had won one of the so-called Monuments of cycling, and in doing so he became the successor to Servais Knaven.
From that moment on, Terpstra was a marked man in the peloton during all the spring classics. Riders started to react to his solo attacks, making his subsequent victories all the more impressive. In 2015, he was second in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, behind sprinter pur sang Alexander Kristoff. He was also second at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem. In 2017, Terpstra was on the podium at the Ronde van Vlaanderen again, this time in third place. He was also third in Paris-Tours.
Only getting better
In the 2018 season Terpstra’s successes simply continued. He won the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and became the successor to Adrie van de Poel, the last Dutchman to win the race. That victory put him on the very short list of men who have won both Paris–Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. He was incidentally third in Paris–Roubaix, second in Paris-Tours and he also won the E3 Harelbeke.
Terpstra is now 34 and therefore not the youngest guy in the peloton. However, you can never write him off. Next season he is leaving Quick-Step to ride for the French Direct-Energie team, where it’s clear he will be the team’s leader during the spring classics and we can hopefully enjoy watching his attacking style and witness more victories to come.