Sorry for the delay, but here are my thoughts following a jam-packed weekend of racing:
1. It’s hard to believe that Saturday’s E3 Prij was Fabian Cancellara’s first win in Belgium—aside from an ITT stage at the Tour of Belgium. Clearly, Spartacus is hoping it’s just a taste of better things to come—and with a team that’s turning-out to be one of the strongest in the peloton, it’s easy to see why his confidence is brimming. I haven’t been able to ascertain whether or not he knew about that tight left-hander just inside 1km to go, but one can only assume he—or his director—did. It just goes to show what can happen when brains meet brawns.
2. As for Tom Boonen, Saturday was his second consecutive 2nd-place in a race he won 4-years running from 2004 to 2007. To be honest, I’m not sure why everyone’s making such a big deal about Boonen’s performance. The only time anyone ever spoke about last year’s E3 loss to Pozzato was immediately before and after this year’s event—don’t you think Pozzato would have much rather won Roubaix and lost the E3? Exactly. A win on either of the next 2 Sunday’s is all Boonen needs to erase any lingering thoughts following Saturday’s loss—at least until next year’s event. That said, Boonen intimated that he was not prepared for the change in the race’s finish. Had he known about that last corner, he might have taken a faster line, and perhaps come a bit closer to catching Cancellara. With several other men riding at the top of their game, Boonen is in no place to take anything for granted—Saturday proved how costly even the slightest of mental lapses can be.
3. Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha seems to have picked-up right where he left-off in February’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I see him as a better contender for Roubaix than Flanders though, as he seems less explosive than he once was. Remember, when he attacked to win the Omloop, he simply motored-away from the rest on a flat section of cobbles. As for teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen, he was a non-factor in both races this weekend—that’s too bad as we all had high hopes for the young Norwegian. Can he get it together in time for Flanders?
4. And speaking of non-factors, Stijn Devolder might become the only former winner of the Tour of Flanders to be left-off his team the following year. Patrick Lefevere seems unimpressed by his team’s lack of urgency, even going as so far as to speculate just how many of his current riders might be looking for new jobs by the end of the season. While Sylvain Chavanel’s ridden well enough so far to be given a little bit of latitude, Devolder clearly has more to prove. He’s starting tomorrow’s 3-Days of DePanne, his last chance to show us—and his team—what he has to offer.
5. Hopefully Filippo Pozzato learned his lesson—he needs to be well-placed for every climb, not just the ones on which he thinks Boonen will attack. I don’t expect we’ll see him make the same mistake again—especially with Sergei Ivanov likely to have received a lecture as well following Saturday’s gaffe. Despite the mistake, Pippo’s clearly at the top of his game right now.
6. I picked Nick Nuyens for the win Saturday; he responded by hitting the deck not once, but three times. It’s a shame too as his Rabobank team was clearly up to the challenge, placing 3 riders in the top-10. One can only wonder what they would have done had Nuyens kept the rubber-side down.
7. Vacansoleil put in an impressive team performance as well, placing 2 riders in the top-10 including none other than Bjorn Leukemans. Okay, Bjorn, after 2nd-place in Dwars and 7th in the E3, you’re back on the radar. Please don’t disappoint me.
8. Were you surprised to see a Footon-Serveto rider finish 10th and a Xacebo-Galicia rider finish 18th? It’s okay, you can say it—I was too.
9. And speaking of Spanish teams, there was an interesting moment Saturday when Euskaltel had 4 riders struggling at the back in the E3 Prijs while 4 of their teammates were riding tempo at the front in the Criterium International. How’s that for universal balance?
Now to Sunday’s Ghent-Wevelgem…
10. It’s beginning to look like the only thing that might get in Fabian Cancellara’s way next weekend might be his own teammate, Matti Breschel. It was obvious to everyone that Breschel was the strongest man in the field. Had he not flatted, he might have added a major classic to the minor one he won last Wednesday. He and Cancellara are saying all the right things heading into Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, but one can only wonder what might happen between now and the finish line Sunday. One thing is certain: Saxo Bank clearly has the best one-two punch in the peloton right now—something few other teams can match.
11. But before we forget, let’s give some credit to HTC-Columbia’s Bernhard Eisel, the man who actually won the race. He admitted to not liking Ghent-Wevelgem very much in his post-race interview—that’s too bad as he’ll certainly be expected to ride it every year from now until he retires. Bob Stapleton must have been relieved to see his team take a big win—especially given the amount of success his former riders have garnered since their departures. Eisel was not eager to count himself among the favorites for next Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, but his teammates Marcel Sieberg and Matthew Goss still warrant attention following impressive rides yesterday. This year might be too soon, but it’s clear that HTC’s future is bright.
12. Hats-off to Topsport Vlaanderen’s Sep Vanmarcke for what was one of the gutsiest rides I’ve seen in a long time. Not only did he attack in the finale of Ghent-Wevelgem, but once he was caught he was still able to sprint to 2nd place—which is more than can be said for some of his companions. Vanmarcke also made the main selection in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Let’s see what he can do in this week’s 3-Days of DePanne.
13. As for Philippe Gilbert and Omega Pharma-Lotto, it’s déjà vu all over again as their 2010 spring campaign has started as poorly as last year’s. With 2 men in a 6-man breakaway, it’s hard to see how the team didn’t come home with the win. Both Gilbert and Roelandts said they told the other to go for it, but that’s hardly an excuse for not even trying to attack. Worse still, there seemed to be no attempt at teamwork in the final sprint. Still, Gilbert’s riding well and is hoping DePanne will put the finishing touches on his form for Flanders. But this is Belgium—wins in Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy will only get him so far.
As for Jurgen Roelandts, we could forgive him for his failure to come through for his team yesterday—had he made more of an effort in the final to lead-out Gilbert for the win. While I think he’ll play a role on Sunday, his true calling could be Paris-Roubaix two weeks from now.
14. And give George Hincapie credit for a solid ride Sunday—a ride I can’t say I was expecting. Despite the performance, I think Flanders is a bit out of his reach at this point—Marcus Burghardt might be a better bet for BMC. But Roubaix is still a race I think he can win, especially with two more weeks to improve. Sometimes getting sick can be a good thing—if it gets you to your peak at a time when others are starting to fall from theirs. Could this be George’s lucky year?
And while we’re talking about BMC, is Alessandro Ballan this team’s Stijn Devolder? Like the Belgian, Ballan’s riding DePanne, but I can’t help but if it’s too little, too late.
15. As for Liquigas and Astana, not riding Saturday clearly had an effect on their performances Sunday. Daniel Oss is a name to remember from Liquigas while Enrico Gasparotto and Maxim Iglinsky continued their impressive seasons for Astana. All three are listed for DePanne—I expect we’ll be hearing from them again. One interesting note for Astana, I think Iglinsky getting dropped from the break shows the decline of his form, while Gasparotto’s move to bridge a gap on the Kateberg shows his fitness might still be on the rise.
16. And finally, the organizers of Ghent-Wevelgem couldn’t have been happy with Boonen and Cancellara not finishing—and almost not even starting, for that matter. This weekend proved that riding both races at a high level is clearly not possible. Expect more calendar changes next year.
And that’s that as far this weekend’s cobbled races are concerned. What are your thoughts?
Share them below.