Sometimes it’s okay to be wrong, I guess. While I expected to have to wait another week for a real showdown between top favorites Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, and co., I was pleasantly surprised to see an aggressive and exciting race. Here’s what I noticed:
1. Hats-off to Fabian Cancellara for adding a third jewel to his Monument Crown. With victories in Milan-San Remo, the Ronde, and Paris-Roubaix, he’s only a Liege and a Lombardy away from completing the “Quintuple Crown”. I was wrong to think Cancellara wouldn’t have the acceleration and snap to handle attacks from the likes of Boonen and Gilbert—watching him ride away from Boonen on the Muur (in the saddle) I could see he clearly didn’t need it. Now, Spartacus heads to Paris-Roubaix as the odds-on favorite for another victory in the Hell of the North. Did you know the only non-Belgian rider to have completed the Flanders-Roubaix double was Swiss?
2. As for Boonen, there’s no shame in his 2nd-place performance; he rode a fantastic race and was simply beaten by a stronger opponent. He raced attentively, confidently, and clearly read his opposition correctly. And had his team done a better job in support of the Belgian Champion, he might have had just a little bit more left in his tank for the Muur. Luckily for Tommeke, he gets another chance at Cancellara this Sunday in Roubaix.
3. As for Phillippe Gilbert, for the second year in a row he occupied the podium’s third step. Had he been better placed for the Molenberg, he might have been able to follow the two leaders. He gets a rest now before continuing his spring campaign at Amstel and Liege. I have a hunch we haven’t seen Gilbert at his best yet; a Monument win is still a possibility for the Belgian.
4. Bjorn Leukemans has officially justified the hype he received at Pavé during last year’s Spring Classics. In fact, one has to wonder the attention Leukemans would get were he riding for a bigger team. Look at his results over the past 10 days: 2nd at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, 7th at the E3 Prijs, and 4th in the Ronde. Aside from Flecha, Boonen, and Cancellara, there are few men who have had more success in Belgium this spring. Now Leukemans heads to Roubaix, a race in which he finished 4th in 2007. Will he be overlooked again?
5. As suspected, Tyler Farrar came through to take the field sprint for 5th-place. It’s a good result, but nothing to get too excited about, as winning a large group sprint in Flanders is hardly an indicator for future success. That said Farrar has the build and the personality to find success in these races some day, especially if he successfully makes the switch from field sprinter to classic rider—as many have before him. Now, I’m eager to see how handles Roubaix. And give David Millar credit as well for riding one heck of a race, ultimately enabling Farrar to rest comfortably for the finale. Like Farrar, I can’t wait to see what Millar does this Sunday in Roubaix—he’s clearly racing at a high level.
6. George Hincapie finished in 6th-place, a bit of a surprise as I had expected Marcus Burghardt to be the protected man for BMC. Many have been quick to discredit Hincapie’s form as of late, but he certainly seems right on track for another assault on the race that has eluded him his entire career. My ideal scenario: Boonen, Cancellara, Pozzato, and Hincapie enter the velodrome together to fight for the win—a battle of national champions and a photographer’s dream.
7. Speaking of near-misses at Roubaix, Leif Hoste seems to be shaping-up quite nicely. And with Gilbert taking the week off, he might have guaranteed himself top billing on Omega Pharma-Lotto’s team for Roubaix. With Roelandts and Vanavermaet riding in support, Hoste might have the ability to score another top result—but a win would still be considered an upset given the level of the competition.
8. Were you as excited as I was to see Steve Chainel in the first group after the Paterberg in the chase group after Cancellara and Boonen’s attack on the Molenberg? He’s another rider who has enjoyed the last 10 days in Belgium. He and his teammate William Bonnet will give the French someone to cheer for come Sunday.
9. And they’ll need one considering Patrick Lefevere’s recent announcement that Sylvain Chavanel will be staying home Sunday in favor of Stijn Devolder. It appears as if Devolder’s ride Sunday earned him one last chance to show Lefevere that he is worthy of a spot on next year’s roster. (Not that it matters; I’ll bet almost anything he’s heading to Radio Shack in 2011.) While Devolder did well to fight his way back to the front 3 times, the question has to be asked: why did he get dropped in the first place? Shouldn’t he have known to be better placed for the climbs? Regardless, I expect a good ride from him Sunday as his form might just be on the upswing.
10. As for Chavanel, he rode a rather anonymous race, ultimately finishing with the first group in 24th-place, ironically one place ahead of Devolder. While Chavanel’s not riding as well as he was last year—when he finished 8th in Roubaix—he’s not riding poorly enough to justify Lefevere leaving him home Sunday. Both men need to be on the starting line for Quick Step to have it’s best chance to get Boonen a record-tying 4th win. I wonder what’s really going on at Quick Step.
11. Someone needs to buy Matti Breschel a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Clearly one of the strongest riders in the race, Breschel rode up the Paterberg so fast that he seemed to wait for the rest at the top—had they been closer to the finish he might have just ridden away from everyone. But then a strange series of mechanicals (rubbing brakes) ensued for the Saxo Bank co-leaders, offering a glimpse at a key difference between Riis’ two stars. Cancellara handled his bike change calmly, at first heading back to the car for a quick fix, then quietly returning to the peloton only to quickly receive a new bike at a well-timed corner just up the road. As for Breschel, he drifted off the back for his bike change only to find a mechanic apparently confused as to which spare bike was which. Breschel, obviously upset, waved his arms and stomped his legs like a child with a broken toy. By the time he rejoined the race just before the Molenberg, there was no time for him to regain his place at the front before Boonen and Cancellara left everyone behind.
Now don’t get me wrong, I feel for Breschel and his missed opportunity. The mechanic should have done a better job of getting him the right bike quickly. But then again, these things happen. As for Breschel and his post race comments, I won’t feel sorry for him the next time he needs a favor from a mechanic and doesn’t get it. A professional cycling team is more than just riders—just as a rider wouldn’t publicly call-out a teammate or director (unless he rides for Quick Step), he shouldn’t use the press to blame a mechanic. Their jobs are thankless enough as it is, Matti; don’t add insult to injury. I guarantee he feels much worse about it than you ever will.
12. And speaking of giving credit where it’s due, let’s give Lance Armstrong some points for a terrific ride. He played an active role in the race’s final phases, chasing down Matt Hayman just before the Molenberg. He then held-on to finish in the lead peloton, ultimately ending his day in 27th-place—not bad. I wonder what he could do were he to try and peak for these races.
From here, we head to the Scheldeprijs—a race that doesn’t quite get me as excited as Ghent-Wevelgem would have had it retained its traditional place on the calendar. I’ll have a race preview tomorrow; it will be interesting to see how many favorites for Roubaix choose to take part.
Otherwise, tot straks for now. And what about you? What did you notice from this weekend’s Ronde? Any early thoughts for Roubaix?
Share your comments below.