Ronde van Vlaanderen review

All of Belgium must have woken up on Monday morning with one hell of a hangover, as Tom Boonen conquered the new parcours to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen for the third time – only the fifth man in history to have done so. Jack and Kitty review the race.

It’s a breakaway …

The race started with a 15-man breakaway, including the likes of Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), which went away and wasn’t completely caught until well into the latter part of the race.

There were no Omega Pharma-Quick Step or RadioShack-Nissan riders in the break, meaning they had to do the lion’s share of the chasing when they wanted to start shortening the gap. OPQS did, however, get help from Astana and GreenEDGE to start slowly closing the gap, as well as the first of the cobbled climbs mid-way through the race with the Taaienberg.

As the breakaway and peloton chased one another over cobbles and climbs, the riders were starting to form little pockets along the road. Sky’s Mathew Hayman, GreenEDGE’s Tomas Vaitkus, Vacansoleil’s Kris Boeckmans and Rabobank’s Lars Boom broke away from the peloton to try to bridge to the breakaway but they only managed to drop Vacansoleil’s Stijn Devolder off the back of the peloton altogether.

Jack: It’s hard to believe that Stijn Devolder has actually won this race twice! I genuinely can’t remember the last time that I was watching a race and didn’t see him thrown out of the back.

Kitty: Funny that, because I feel I should always tip him as a favourite – or an outside contender at least – for these types of races, yet he’s always a damp squib. Of course, the time I don’t tip him, he’ll come storming in for the victory …

By this time, Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel were riding on the front, as they were coming up to the Rekelberg. Astana kept doing turns and BMC started to make their presence known, including Philippe Gilbert, who looked to be testing his strength after a disappointing few months.

Coming up to the Kwaremont

By the time the breakaway hit the first of the three climbs of the Kwaremont, the gap was under two minutes. RadioShack took Fabian Cancellara to the front with Boonen and the OPQS boys and they went over the Kwaremont in the front, before moving up the thigh-burning Paterberg. BMC then took over at the front, the gap dropped under a minute and the breakaway started to lose riders off the back to melt back into the peloton.

Jack: It was interesting to see who BMC were riding for, given that they’re the Classics super-team to rule them all! With the likes of Hushovd, Van Avermaet, Hincapie, Gilbert and Ballan riding, it was interesting to see who was the strongest. Of all of that list, you’d bet that Gilbert was the best rider, but as was later revealed when he was dropped, he’s not yet reached peak form. He’ll have to rectify that before the Ardennes races which are so important to his season.

Kitty: I honestly couldn’t figure out who they were riding for for most of the race. I’m not even sure they did. They’re not really making their presence as known as you’d think. Thor wasn’t anywhere yesterday – just saving himself for Paris-Roubaix?

Cancellara hits the tarmac

Disaster struck at the feed zone after the Koppenberg. Cancellara got a musette caught in his wheel, flipped over his handlebars and came down hard, ending his race and Classics season with a quadruple fracture to his right collarbone. This is what Chavanel said about the crash:

I saw him fall, he was right beside me, and I all but went with him. There were water bottles all over the road. He flew through the air in impressive style. He was very unlucky.

Jack: I’m not a big Cancellara fan, but I couldn’t quite believe what had happened. It was a literally jaw-dropping moment, like when I was left distraught by Igor Anton’s crash in the 2010 Vuelta while in the red jersey. Even Boonen fans were left disappointed; the ding-dong battle that was to be acted out on the grand stages of Flanders and Roubaix wasn’t to be performed at all. With a strong team at his disposal, it was certainly advantage Tornado Tom.

Kitty: Gutted is all I can say: a) that he crashed and was injured and b) that you’re not a big Cancellara fan. Oh Jack … Anyway, apparently this was the first time Cancellara has ever broken a bone – you just don’t see him crash very often at all. I really wanted to see the battle between him and Boonen at this race and also Paris-Roubaix because I just love the way he rides. Next year …

But the race went on, with Sky’s Hayman attacking again, this time with George Hincapie. Europcar got in on the action with Thomas Voeckler riding off the front, tongue lolling out, as is his wont. Ladies’ favourite Bernie Eisel (Sky) started riding hard on the front with Chavanel attacking as well. Gilbert made a move at 49km to go, looking to set up Alessandro Ballan for an attack. The breakaway got caught at 46km – except for FDJ’s David Boucher – and Garmin took to the front, surrounded by Farnese Vini and OPQS riders. Then the second collarbone snapped: with the peloton close to lead-out speed as they jostled for position approaching the Kwaremont, GreenEDGE’s Seb Langeveld made an unlucky decision to ride on the pavement and got a spectator’s foot on his wheel, throwing him down hard. End of his Classics season too.

After blowing a kiss to the cameras, Boucher accepted defeat and Garmin, BMC, Liquigas and OPQS drove the pace. Riders jumped out in front, attacked, lost momentum, came back into the peloton, attacked again. But once they got to the Paterberg, Garmin’s Johan Vansummeren rounded the corner and ran straight into the barriers, taking down riders and bottlenecking the group. Boonen, Chavanel, Garmin’s Sep Vanmarcke and Liquigas’ Peter Sagan were already out in front and rode to put the maximum distance between themselves and the peloton before the third and final climb of the Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Ballan breaks away

The breakaway group took about 37 seconds from the peloton, with Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Farnese Vini’s Oscar Gatto in between trying to bridge. The Boonen group was too strong but big Bernie started dragging the peloton to meet EBH and Gatto and give his teammate more firepower. Everyone was brought together again, until they hit the Kwaremont. BMC were on the front to set up Ballan, Boonen followed with Farnese Vini’s Filippo Pozzato, while Sagan rode the gap between the front three and the peloton, led by Chavanel.

Once the lead group hit the Paterberg it was make or break with Ballan attacking – and it almost looked like Boonen was going to break but he dug deep and got over that hill, and with Pozzato the three rode away from the peloton. From then on, it was Boonen’s race to lose. Sagan, however, didn’t just lie down and merge with the peloton, he was constantly attacking to try to bridge over to the Boonen group. One wonders if he had made it, would he have outsprinted the lot? What-if …

Jack: Boonen looked like he was seriously suffering on the Paterberg, and I really thought he was going to be dropped. I was fairly certain that even if he got over the top he wouldn’t have enough to beat Pozzato in the sprint. It was a very impressive performance from the Italian duo. Ballan really hasn’t done much since winning the World Championships, with Pozzato justifying why he’s still seen as a serious Classics contender. After a sixth at Milan-San Remo, he’s in great form and will be looking forward to Paris-Roubaix.

Kitty: You know, I’ve never really ‘got’ Pozzato. I also didn’t think he looked that great at the end – I thought as long as they didn’t get too much of a jump on Boonen, he’d always bring them back and eventually win. I think he played it really smart.

Cat and mouse under the flamme rouge

The front trio were over a minute ahead coming into the final kilometres and started that ‘ride all over the road, look around, take little turns, argue a bit’ thing, in the style of a track sprint. Under the flamme rouge, Ballan started attacking but Boonen caught him every time, pulling Pozzato with him. With a straight into the finish, there wasn’t much to do but play tactics and keep a watchful eye on any kind of attack. Ballan attacked but again couldn’t shake Boonen. Ballan tried one last time, only to see Boonen sprint past him to the finish line and the history books as he proved just strong enough to hold off Pozzato’s late charge.

Boonen leaves Pozzato disappointed (image courtesy of Farnese Vini)

Ballan said after the race:

The race was really hard and the first 100km were very fast. I tried to attack several times in the final kilometres, but Boonen was too strong. For me, it was a good performance.

Boonen’s reaction to the finish was one of relief as much as triumph:

The two [Ballan and Pozzato] scared me in the finale. They know each other well. I didn’t have much left, but it was enough.

Jack: It wasn’t just Tom who was scared – I was too! However he just nicked it on the line in an exciting finish. You have to wonder how Sagan would’ve done had he managed to get into the front group though. I think it’s safe to say it would’ve been a lot more difficult for Boonen. Nevertheless, Tornado Tom is showing his best form again when many thought his best days were behind him. With Cancellara out of Paris-Roubaix, he’ll be certainly looking at doing the double.

Kitty: Oh, if Sagan had gotten into that group, you’re right, it would have been a different story. I kept trying to will him to get into a good position for the win as he’s so strong and so fast. I don’t know what he’s going to be like next weekend but he might just pick his moment – I would love him to win Paris-Roubaix. As for predictions, I think that Tom is going to get man-marked pretty heavily and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was another victory by the most unexpected rider. Or, hey, maybe it’ll be Thor’s year!

A great record for a great rider

One other record was made: George Hincapie is now the man to have finished the most Rondes (17). Here is what he had to say about it after the race:

Race result

1. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 6:04:33

2. Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Serre Italia) same time

3. Alessandro Ballan (BMC) +0:01

4. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:38

5. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

6. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

7. Luca Paolini (Katusha) s/t

8. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) s/t

9. Matti Breschel (Rabobank) s/t

10. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

Links: Preview, Official website

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