I’m following the progress of three Classics specialists in 2012: BMC’s Philippe Gilbert, the top-ranked rider in the world last year, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s former world champion and Tour de France green jersey winner Tom Boonen, and Garmin-Barracuda’s Koldo Fernandez. It’s fair to say it’s been a mixed bag overall. Here’s a quick summary of how their spring campaigns have gone so far.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC)
Results: 48th at Strade Bianche. 31st in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. 87th in Milan-San Remo. 39th in Gent-Wevelgem. 75th in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.
WorldTour ranking: Not ranked.
It’s been a worryingly quiet start to Philippe Gilbert’s season, with a rather poor selection of results. Hampered by tooth problems, he’s yet to show anything near his best form, and has appeared to struggle in the Classics he’s entered so far.
His main goal for the season is undoubtedly success in the Ardennes Classics, although I’m beginning to worry about whether he’ll be on form for them. Looking at his results in the last few years you’ll note that he has generally always been in better form going into the Ardennes races than this year. Last year he’d already had two top ten finishes, this year he’s not finished inside the top 38:
After Gent-Wevelgem, the Belgian champ himself admitted:
I’m not happy about my current form yet.
Still, you can never predict what PhilGil will do next, and hopefully he will have turned it round in time for the Amstel Gold Race next weekend!
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
Results: Won Paris-Roubaix, Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke. Second in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
WorldTour ranking: 1st, 366 points.
From disappointment to elation, as Gilbert’s compatriot Tom Boonen has rediscovered form many thought he would never find again.
He showed good form in winning E3 Harelbeke, pipping Oscar Freire to the post in a very tight finish, and took victory later in the weekend at Gent-Wevelgem, when he held off Peter Sagan to demonstrate the sprinting abilities which saw him take the Tour de France’s green jersey in 2007.
He carried his form through by taking back-to-back wins at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. At the start of the season I wrote how Boonen had said “I have rediscovered my strength.” Even I, as a fervent Tommeke supporter didn’t expect him to demonstrate it in quite the way he has.
Undoubtedly the absence of Fabian Cancellara in the two big Classics made it easier for him, but whether the Swiss rider would’ve been able to beat him while in such good form is another matter altogether.
Impressive though his late sprint to hold off the Italian duo of Pippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan was at the Ronde, his 54km solo dash to the Roubaix velodrome was even better – a demonstration of brute strength and power.
2011 Paris-Roubaix champion Johan Vansummeren summed it up superbly after the race, saying:
If the race had gone another 100km, we might have caught him.
Boonen’s fourth victory in the ‘Hell of the North’ means he matches Roger de Vlaeminck’s record of four victories, and he’s already thinking of the legacy he’s built up over his cobbled career:
Now I realise that I will probably be remembered as the best ever on the cobblestones.
But Boonen says he’s getting better with age [insert predictable wine metaphor here – Ed], and at 31 years of age is showing no signs of slowing down:
My career is not over yet. We will see where it ends. I just love it. I never have problems training. It has not been easy. There are always ups and downs. This is my 11th season, but in the last few years my love for the bike has grown. And it’s getting easier as I get older.
Koldo Fernandez (Garmin-Barracuda)
WorldTour ranking: Not ranked.
In true Basque style, Fernandez failed to complete any of the three races. But I’m certain that the plucky rider’s work for Tyler Farrar and company didn’t go unnoticed!
Previous update: February 23rd
Twitter: @tomboonen (inactive)