In our second Belgian race of the weekend, Mark Cavendish and his Sky train proved too dominant for another surprise winner to take Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Saturday’s Omloop was certainly the more exciting of the two races, but those hoping for a bunch sprint finish with the rainbow jersey in the lead [like Tim, say? – Ed] weren’t disappointed.
The day started with a crash – Jens Debusschere of OPQS took a tumble into a flower bed in the neutral zone – but otherwise was relatively spill-free. A breakaway of seven went away after a number of aborted attempts, with BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet the biggest name in the breakaway, causing surprise throughout the Twitterati that the peloton would let someone so powerful get ahead of them. That said, once they hit the Kruisberg with 96km to go the breakaway was living on borrowed time and never got more than five minutes ahead of the peloton.
OPQS’ Tom Boonen once again showed both strong cycling and guts during the middle of the race, as he made his move on the Oude Kwaremont. By this time the breakaway had broken up, with Van Avermaet kicking away with Niko Eeckhout of An Post-Sean Kelly on his wheel. Boonen’s band of 15 riders, including OPQS teammate Gert Steegmans, Garmin’s Tyler Farrar and Johan Vansummeren and Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecharode strong, putting the onus on Lotto-Belisol to chase from the front of the peloton.
Boonen’s group absorbed the leading breakaway on the Tiegemburg, which led Vacansoleil-DCM, Lotto-Belisol and Europcar to focus on the chase, with Thomas Voeckler putting in some hard turns. The Sky boys sat near the front, letting the other teams contain the breakaway, until 50km to go. That’s when the Sky train started coming down the tracks, quickly pulling in the breakaway. OPQS’ Sylvain Chavanel and a small group did their best to stay out in front but it was too little, too late. From about 20km out, Sky dominated the race until lead-out man Chris Sutton unleashed Cavendish at 250m, and he made crossing the finish line first look easy. Characteristically, he was quick to praise the hard work of his teammates, telling Belgian TV:
The team worked the whole day for me. The break went, when we got it back, they started riding immediately and just stayed there to the finish. I’m so proud.
Or, as he put it himself on Twitter later:
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) February 26, 2012
He also revealed that he had been ill throughout the day, vomiting several times. But in the end it was his rivals who finished feeling sick to their stomachs.
Second place went to Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-BigMat), while Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) was third. Andre Grepiel – most people’s pre-race favourite – was never really in contention in the final and ended up tenth. For Cavendish and Sky fans this was the result hoped for, but it certainly didn’t have the thrills or surprises of Omloop.
1. Mark Cavendish (Sky) 4:27:20
2. Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-BigMat) same time
3. Kenny van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
4. Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat) s/t
5. Alexander Serebryakov (Team Type 1-Sanofi) s/t
6. Tom Veelers (Project 1t4i) s/t
7. Sebastien Chavanel (Europcar) s/t
8. Stefan Van Dijk (Accent.jobs-Willems Veranda’s) s/t
9. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) s/t
10. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) s/t