Two Monuments down and two to go so far this spring—can it get any more exciting?
Here’s what we saw during yesterday’s Tour of Flanders:
1. With his fantastic win yesterday, Saxo Bank-Sunguard’s Nick Nuyens joined the upper echelon of contemporary Belgian classics stars, adding the Ronde to a resume that already includes the U23 Tour of Flanders, Het Volk, Paris-Brussels, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and Dwars door Vlaanderen. He’s also the first to win Dwars and the Ronde in the same spring since Johan Museeuw in 1993. That’s good company!
2. Nuyens and Saxo Bank clearly benefitted from an abundance of more-favored teams, letting other sqauds control the race while waiting for the right move. Baden Cooke deserves special mention—he’s clearly the man Nuyens can count on most to get him where he needs to be when he needs to be there. Don’t rule them out Sunday either.
3. And at what point will Bjarne Riis receive at least a little bit of credit for picking talent and reinvigorating seemingly dead careers? If I would have said in January that Nuyens would be a more than adequate replacement for the loss of Fabian Cancellara and Matti Breschel you might have called me crazy. Now Nuyens has given his team two important Belgian wins and its second-consecutive Tour of Flanders.
4. There’s been a lot of criticism already regarding Quick-Step’s tactics, but I think it’s a bit overblown. They did their best, but just came up short in the end—let’s not read too much into it. Chavanel rode a textbook-perfect race in support of his teammate Tom Boonen, covering moves and doing his best to keep Cancellara in reach of Boonen’s chase group. In the sprint, yes he was boxed-in, but I doubt he had the legs to overcome Nuyens anyway—after all, he was off the front since the Kwaremont. He’s another contender for Roubaix Sunday—and might find success playing a similar role within his team.
5. As for Cancellara, he’s clearly one of the classiest riders in the peloton. A victim of cramps during the finale of a race held in unexpectedly warm, sunny weather, the Swiss champion refused to take anything away from his colleagues afterwards. “Even when you’re strong, you’re beatable,” he said in a post-race interview. Some claim hubris as the reason for Cancellara’s “loss”. I blame dehydration.
6. Tom Boonen’s fourth-place finish isn’t bad—especially with a teammate in second—but it’s still a far cry from what many had hoped. Let’s be honest: Boonen never really looked to be a major contender yesterday. He tried to follow Cancellara’s attack on the Leberg and did his best to bring the race back together heading into Meerbeke, but never looked as if he were one of the race’s best. His team claims he’s a week away from top fitness—I have my doubts.
7. Fifth on the day went to Sebastian Langeveld, Holland’s future classics star, and sixth went to George Hincapie—an impressive result for the American in his penultimate Tour of Flanders. Perhaps more important for George, his BMC team was the most well-represented at the end of yesterday’s race, a good sign heading into Paris-Roubaix this weekend. It just goes to show what a little positive reinforcement can do, I guess.
8. Hello Bjorn Leuekemans, it’s nice to see you again.
9. It’s nice to meet you too, Staf Scheirlinckx!
10. Philippe Gilbert finished the day ninth after a late-race attack that sent fans everywhere to the edge of their seats. I wonder what he might have done had he not attacked on the Bosberg. Would he have had the legs to follow the final move? Gilbert gets a break now, then heads back to action at Amstel and the Ardennes.
11. As for Team Sky. Geraint Thomas rode one hell of race on behalf of Juan Antonio Flecha, then beat his captain in the “sprint” for 10th. Britain looks to have a pretty serious star on its hands. And Flecha? He never looked in it to win it yesterday—maybe Roubaix will suit him better?
12. Garmin-Cervélo proved to everyone that it’s hard to win a race when you’re racing for third. With Thor as the team’s undisputed captain for Roubaix—he looked good at many points Sunday—there’s still hope. Too bad the Scheldeprijs doesn’t count as a Monument.
13. Other big losers yesterday: Filippo Pozzato finished 38th; Liquigas-Cannondale’s first rider came home 95th; and Stijn Devolder proved unable to respond to his critics.
14. Speaking of racing for third, we wouldn’t know about Garmin’s strategy had the organizers not put microphones and cameras in several team cars. I applaud the move and hope we’ll see more of it in the future. From Wilfred Peeters claiming that Cancellara was too strong to Saxo Bank’s unabashed elation, the new perspective is a welcome one.
15. And last but not least, for those of you keeping track in the constructor’s race, that’s now Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the Tour of Flanders for Specialized, and the E3 Prijs and the Criterium International for Trek (and Camelback?).
Hope you enjoyed the race—share your comments and observations below.
And please, if you have the means, take a minute and support Pavé by ordering some of our 2011 team kit. Every little bit helps, and we appreciate those who have ordered so far.