E3 & Ghent-Wevelgem Winners and Losers

Photo by Tim Van Wichelen

Good morning to one and all. Thanks to those who joined us in Pavé’s live race coverage and commentary, The Feed Zone, for Saturday’s E3 Prijs and Sunday’s Ghent-Wevelgem. Thanks also to guest commentator Inner Ring, who once again shared his knowledge and insight. Without further ado, here’s what stuck with us from this weekend’s Belgian races:

Winners:

Fabian Cancellara, who won the E3 Prijs in just about the best way you can win a race – attack the field, join a move, tow it to the next move, tow that one to the front break, drop the break, and win. He showed the full effect of the form that he’s only been hinting at and hiding in advance of the Ronde with a performance that was positively Merckxian. The fact that this came after three efforts to rejoin the field after three mechanicals between 80k and ~60k to go make it doubly impressive.

Stuart O’Grady, who demonstrated perfect teamwork by dropping out of the break to help Cancellara chase down the last group on the road. It was a beautiful and selfless move. But did Cancellara need it?

Sep Vanmarcke of Garmin-Cervelo. This youngster impressed at last year’s Ghent-Wevelgem, making the select break and attacking it in the closing kilometers only to get reeled in and still sprint for second. This year, he was the Garmin-Cervelo representative furthest up the road, where he rode with aplomb, attacked the break when it stopped being beneficial. When he was finally reeled in, he stayed with the lead group and sprinted for 4th place. It must be said that Garmin-Cervelo really won the first half of E3 – with Vanmarcke, Haussler, and Hushovd in the three main groups of the race after Andreas Klier set up a crucial split on the Taaienberg, it was theirs to lose.

Tom Boonen. His Ghent-Wevelgem start was a bit of a surprise after a poor early spring for Quick Step led to a schedule reshuffle. However, he stomped the field sprint and picked up a valuable win to put Quick Step on the only scoreboard that matters – the Belgian scoreboard. The Ronde is this weekend – Boonen’s Ghent-Wevelgem should be a nice bit of confidence.

Thomas Voeckler. Is there any race this guy can’t impress in? He was in the break all day at Ghent-Wevelgem, and then, when that crumbled, took up position at the front of the bunch.

Losers:

Tom Boonen. You may remember him from the “Winners” portion of this post, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that, compared to Cancellara’s E3 performance, Ghent-Wevelgem was a consoluation prize. The two go face to face next weekend at the Ronde, and good lord, did you see what Canc did to the field on Saturday? If Boonen’s not shaking in his Sidis, then he’s a good actor. See also: Pyrrhic victory.

Thor Hushovd and Garmin-Cervelo. There’s no video of Cancellara’s initial attack on Saturday, so we don’t know what Thor did when he realized that Cancellara raised his flag. Thor either missed the move or couldn’t follow it. With Garmin-Cervelo was placed so strongly and looking so in control of the race until this point, this bit of neglect was the first moment of a strong position crumbling. It’s too bad – Thor looked powerful up until that point, putting the hurt on with hard accelerations up the bergs. But missing that move is a black eye.

Furthermore, Tyler Farrar was outsprinted for third behind Tom Boonen and Daniele “Mister Second Place” Bennati at Ghent-Wevelgem. If Thor Hushovd had made the front group when the peloton split, could Farrar have won? Apply a second black eye to Thor for this weekend’s performance; when was the last time he won out of a breakaway?

Sky’s Ian Stannard attacked the three-man move in the closing kilometers of Ghent-Wevelgem as the peloton breathed down their necks. It seemed for a bit that he could hold the gap, but he was sucked up as Boonen, Farrar, et al were opening up their sprint. Verdict: at 2k to go, he went too early, and doomed the trio and himself.

Katusha had three riders in the decisive move at E3 on Saturday, and what did they wind up doing?

Bram Tankink of Rabobank, through no fault of his own. Rather, his facial expressions when he cramped hard, painfully, and almost comically make him deserve a bit of sympathy. Cancellara dropped him like a stone and went on to ride to the E3 finish alone; credit Tankink with another effort to stay on his wheel – but that was sunk with another painful-looking round of cramps.

Stijn Devolder. Another Belgian weekend spent at the back.

Post-finishline crashes. At Ghent-Wevelgem, it was FDJ’s Yoan Offredo, who after an exhausting race and a hard sprint didn’t have time to brake from 65kph or room to maneuver in a tight bunch and struck his leg on a photographer straying into the road. Offredo swung over 90 degrees before crashing hard, which led to this tender but painful-looking moment with Cofidis’s Leonardo Duque. Far be it for me to tell race photographers how to do their job, but it seems that there are a handful cause post-finish-line crashes every year, and that seems unnecessary.

Ghent-Wevelgem. Normally considered a race that ends with a sprinter winning from a small group, it was a fairly mundane affair this year. And this after teams choosing Ghent-Wevelgem over E3 led to rumors of E3′s demise? More on that later this week.

Those are our thoughts – what’d you notice during the race? What impressed you, and what disappointed you? Share your thoughts below.

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8 Responses to E3 & Ghent-Wevelgem Winners and Losers

  1. Julius says:

    Great writing on last weekend's excellent racing in the southern part of the Low Countries.

    A few factors that stood out in my mind:

    [b]Date change:[/b] Was it really the right call to change up E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem? GW is really looking like KBK now, with de Ronde so close and E3H being a great warmup and test of form for contenders of de Ronde.

    [b]QSI's comeback:[/b] It was excellent to see QSI finally show the strength stemming from the values of their contracts. Chavanel is an excellent addition to the finale of any cobbled classic, hilly or otherwise. His form in countering the 30k-to-go attack was impressive and he may well play an important role in de Ronde. Add to this Steegman's strong presence in the finale, and we can deduce that Lefevere's ultimatum is working. This is a team that can stand toe-to-toe against Trek-Leopard.

    [b]Cancellara and Trek-Leopard:[/b] In the minds of many, both de Ronde and Roubaix are already decided, with Stuey's long-awaited resurgence and Cancellara's seemingly infinite capacity for dishing out pain. Don't forget that Voigt also showed a lot of class in the Jens Voigt Invitational (otherwise known as Criterium International). Perhaps it is time to talk of Cancellara's chances in 2012 Liege!

    [b]Katusha:[/b] Did they catch the Hoste Lethargy? Excepting Garmin-Cervelo's better known riders (at least in anglo-speaking North Am), they are the big losers.

    [b]Gilbert and Lotto:[/b] For years Gilbert's peaks are late by two weeks. Target RvV and PR, win Amstel instead. Target Worlds, win Lombardia instead. Could it be that this year his peak came two weeks early? Where was his display of power that was in L'Eroica? Was Van Avermaet's departure so strongly felt? Roelands had a decent showing at E3 Harelbeke, and the Lotto lead-out continue to deliver Greipel to the wrong spot.

    [b]BMC:[/b] Speaking of Van Avermaet, he could be an outside chance for some of the Wednesday races such as de Scheldeprijs. Ballan still fails to put in a move in the finale since his 2006 RvV loooooong sprint, but with horses like Hincapie, a confident finisher, even if not the fastest, may win.

    [b]Garmin-Cervelo:[/b] Still the most hyped team amongst the anglo-speakers, but honestly I do not hold high hopes for them in the big races. Thor is a consistent performer and Haussler is getting ever better from his comeback, but in races like RvV and PR equally important is how the team can protect their stars in the first 4 non-televised hours. And after so many tries, I think the teams' reserves are starting to be depleted. This is the difference between a huge roster like Lotto's and QSI's, and smaller but apparently star-studded ones like Garmin-Cervelo's or BMC's. Given that there is yet no spark between their many heads of states, I don't see them surviving in strong form in the last 40 km of RvV nor PR.

    More to add later, including Thomas Voeckler the Energizer Bunny of the peloton. Somebody give him a red jersey for being the most aggressive rider!!

  2. Mattio says:

    Love your thorough thoughts, Julius! We'll have to take a look behind the curtain to see what we can do to get the formatting come our properly…

  3. cthulhu says:

    What nobody crying motor doping yet? ;)

  4. cthulhu says:

    What nobody crying motor doping yet? ;)

    But seriously, Cancellara looks very strong again, but don't write off Gilbert for the Ronde too early.

  5. hamncheeze says:

    Just want to throw in a plug for my Canadian homie Svein Tuft, who had strong rides at both Dwars Doors and then again at GP E3. He made the right move getting in front of the Cancellara express at E3 and tried his hand in the finale for 2nd place, unfortunately for him the counter to his move split the group. The team is young and relatively inexperienced behind him, but even so young guys like Keven Lacombe, Ryan Anderson and Hugo Houle are rising up to the challenge. With the great experience of Bauer, watch for these guys to impress as the season goes on.

  6. Joe says:

    Being a fan of the underdog or little men, its been fun watching Voeckler this season. He really seems to be riding on the form of his life, and I'm wondering if maybe he hasn't matured enough now to sit in the peloton a little longer and attack with the major contenders. He seems too strong to be squandering his race on an attack from km 0 (or km 50 in this case).

    Thoughts?

  7. Touriste-Routier says:

    I am giving a major shout out for Steven Van Vooren of Topsport who hung with Voekler all day. I have a soft spot for him (he and Pave guest columnist Peter Horn stayed at my house a few years ago during Univest as part of the Cycling Center/JCBA team). He has been Topsport's designated breakaway specialist the past 2 seasons in the semi classics; he just stepped it up a notch during G-W. At just 24 years old, one of these days a move is going to stick, and he'll be the "surprise" winner; he already has a few wins under his belt in minor races.

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