With a lot of crashes and a lot of tension and excitement, this was one of the best editions of De Ronde in recent memory. Fabian Cancellara made it three wins in Flanders as Omega Pharma-Quick Step failed big time. Here’s a look back at this season’s second Monument.
The day started out in the rain, with Taylor Phinney the biggest name in the break. The young American is looking ahead to Roubaix next weekend so today he got in some training of the highest quality. More notable in the earlier stages of the race were the sheer number of crashes.
Luke Durbridge and Johan Le Bon left the race early, and former Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren was involved in a horrific crash with a spectator. The woman is in hospital and has reportedly undergone brain surgery, while the Garmin rider came away with facial injuries and some stitches. Lotto riders were unlucky too, with the terminally unlucky Jürgen Roelandts abandoning. Double Flanders winner Stijn Devolder hit the deck three times during the race too.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step were visible at the front all day long, with their strong line-up of Boonen, Štybar, Vandenbergh and Terpstra seemingly destined to heavily figure in the finale. The crashes kept coming with Popovych, Paolini and Gallopin going down. There were no meaningful attacks from the peloton until the climb of the Kanarieberg with 90km remaining. At this point we saw Eisel, Quinziato and OPQS’s Trentin go on the offensive.
When the leaders reached Oude Kwaremont for the second time, only Phinney, Daryl Impey and neo-pro Stig Broeckx (Lotto’s only bright spot today) remained. A select lead group emerged after the repositioned Koppenberg, with OPQS heavily represented. Meanwhile the likes of Cancellara and Sagan were without a single teammate. Sagan was keen to slow the pace so that he could get some help from his Cannondale team, and several riders took this opportunity to attack.
Among these were Devenyns and Boasson Hagen, who were strategically joined by Stijn Vandenbergh. On the Taaienberg, Van Avermaet trying in vain to get away, while up front Vandenbergh was dropped from the leaders. Soon after the remaining duo were caught, and this left a select group (Sagan, Boonen, Cancellara, Vanmarcke, Vandenbergh, Štybar, Terpstra, Van Avermaet, Devenyns, Boasson Hagen, Degenkolb, Leukemans, Minard) leading the race with only the final three climbs remaining.
After his failed attack on the Taaienberg, Van Avermaet tried again soon after and was joined by Vandenbergh, who sat behind him without taking a turn as he had three teammates in the chase group. The sprinters Sagan and Degenkolb were forced to lead the chase, meaning that the advantage of the leading duo swelled to around 30 seconds. OPQS’ reluctance to do the chasing meant that a group including Paolini, Thomas and several others were able to make the bridge.
The final ascent of Oude Kwaremont was up next, with Sagan’s Cannondale teammates working on the front. On the climb itself it was Trek’s Fabian Cancellara who attacked, with only one rider able to stick with him. That rider was the man he beat in Roubaix last year, Sep Vanmarcke. They quickly built up a gap, and Sagan had no response. OPQS and home favourite Tom Boonen weren’t in a great position, which meant that Vandenbergh would be their only representative in the race’s finale.
Onto the final climb – the Paterberg – and it was Van Avermaet who surged clear of Vandenbergh. Cancellara and Vanmarcke caught up soon after, and the BMC man was soon swallowed up by the trio. Cannondale and OPQS were working in the chase group, but the leaders were always going to be contesting the finish between them. Sanremo winner Alexander Kristoff tried to make the gap, but 1 vs 4 is a predictable outcome.
The flat run-in was as tense as cycling gets – a Can and three Vans. Cancellara had experience on his side and has already proved he can outsprint Vanmarcke at the end of a gruelling day like this. Vandenbergh was the man with the odds against him as he does not possess much of a sprint, while Van Avermaet was clearly the strongest sprinter in the group, but had spent a lot of time on the attack. I was cheering for Sep.
It was, pretty unsurprisingly, Vandenbergh who opted to attack first. He took Van Avermaet with him and the pair grabbed a lead of a few seconds as Cancellara was playing poker behind. The Swiss rider refused to drag Vanmarcke back, and it was the young Belgian who caved and rode across the gap with Cancellara in his wheel. The four were clearly spent, with this being the only major effort outside of the final kilometre.
Kristoff was visible in the background, but wasn’t close enough as the leaders began playing cat and mouse under the flamme rouge. It was Van Avermaet at the front of the group, with Cancellara at the back. The metres ticked by until there were just 200 left. Cancellara went first and was able to wind it up and pass everyone in a sprint that seemed to be in slow motion. He joins Magni, Buysse, Leman, Museeuw and Boonen as the all-time record holder with three victories. Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke rounded out the podium, while Vandenbergh finished fourth. Boonen ended up 7th, with Sagan in 16th.
The best race of the year for sure, at least until next week. The new position of the Koppenberg seemed to make a difference for the good, with new scenarios cropping up throughout the race’s final section. It was impossible to tell who would win until the final few hundred metres, which is always the best outcome for a race like this. Of course people will still yearn for the Kapelmuur, but this was the best iteration of the race since it was cut out two years back.
Cancellara has put himself in the history books once again, and could also become the joint-leader in all-time wins at Roubaix next week. Vanmarcke is now fully established at this level, and it seems a certainty that he will become a winner here and/or in Roubaix in future.
Van Avermaet’s aggressiveness can be applauded, and maybe he wouldn’t have been in the position he was without it, but you have to wonder how he would’ve fared in the sprint had he held back on some of his less successful attacks? In any case, it was his best Monument result, so far.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep had a day to forget, as their numerical superiority could not be translated into a great result, even with three riders in the top 10. Team Sky also had a poor race, showing once again that the cobbles are not their forté. Meanwhile, Peter Sagan was left isolated by his team, but didn’t have it in him to follow the crucial attack at the end – a very disappointing day for the Slovak.
|1||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing||6:15:18|
|2||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|3||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin Pro Cycling Team|
|4||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team|
|5||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||0:00:08|
|6||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team||0:00:18|
|7||Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team||0:00:35|
|8||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:37|
|9||Björn Leukemans (Bel) Wanty – Groupe Gobert||0:00:41|
|10||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin Sharp||0:00:43|
|11||Vincent Jerome (Fra) Team Europcar||0:01:12|
|12||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team|
|13||Nicki Sörensen (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:01:15|
|14||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Team Giant-Shimano||0:01:19|
|15||John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano||0:01:25|
|16||Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale|
|17||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|18||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team|
|19||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling|
|20||Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|