I think the only person happier than I was about Matti Breschel winning today’s Dwars Door Vlaanderen was Matti Breschel. Don’t get worng: Pavé isn’t designed to be a prognostication site; I predict winners simply for entertainment purposes. Being correct just adds to the fun; I won’t gloat—for too long, at least.
I caught the last 30 kilometers of the race during my lunch break with a friend who’s becoming a bit of a racing enthusiast. Today was his first opportunity to watch a race on Belgian roads and it was great to see his reactions. “Wow, that’s narrow!” and “Is that a crack down the center of the road?” were just some of the things he noticed, a reminder of the days when I first had a chance to see the classics unfold before me—albeit on a VCR several months after the races took place.
Here’s what I noticed today:
1. As for Breschel, give him credit for gambling on his own. Tom Boonen would have certainly taken the field sprint; it was a smart move for Breschel to test the willingness of other teams to drag any group with Boonen back into the race. And don’t let this win fool you, Breschel’s a successful sprinter in his own right; so look for him again come Sunday in Ghent-Wevelgem.
2. It took him a while, but Steve Chainel finally showed some of the potential we wondered about earlier in the season. The young Frenchman is a talented cyclocross rider and appears to have the makings of a fairly decent classics man. Compatriot Geoffroy LeQuartre had another solid day as well, building upon his good performance in Milan-San Remo. Couple these performaces with Sylvain Chavanel’s impressive form and one can’t help but wonder if France might have a successful spring.
3. Give Luca Paolini credit for finishing 10th in Milan-San Remo, spending a night or two at home, and then hopping a plane to Belgium to finish 5th today with what appeared to be minimal support. Consider him a dark horse candidate for the podium on Sunday.
4. As we had hoped, Nick Nuyens rode well, impressing me with several attacks late in the race. His role in Saturday’s E3 Prijs should confirm his status as a favorite for the Ronde. Few are mentioning the Rabobank man as a rider to contend with, but as Oscar Freire demonstrated Saturday, the men in orange are not to be overlooked—especially with talented support from riders like Sebastian Langeveld and Lars Boom.
5. Speaking of overlooking, I completely ignored Bjorn Leukemans and Niki Terpstra yesterday, and they both punished me for it with a terrific race today. Terpstra’s omission was a flat-out mistake on my part, but Leukemans? I overrated him often last year and I didn’t have the guts to risk it again. I’m waiting until after Saturday before predicting anything from him again.
6. As for the rest, Fabian Cancellara is clearly in peak condition. With Breschel and other strong teammates, he should contend for another win in a spring monument. And Boonen? I’m starting to wonder if he’s too strong at this point—Flanders and Rouabix are still 10 and 17 days away. Can he keep it up?
7. And finally, someone asked if the parcours had changed from recent years. The answer is yes, with the final laps around Waregem being scrapped and the finish line moved from the center of town to the neighborhood surrounding the local stadium.
And what about you? What did you take away from today’s events? Share your comments below.