Ronde van Vlaanderen review: Cancellara booms as Boonen busts

Ronde van Vlaanderen logoFabian Cancellara rode an imperious race to take victory at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, powering away from the field on the Paterberg before slipping into time trial mode and easing his way to the line. His nearest competitor Peter Sagan finished over a minute behind, while his biggest rival Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), didn’t finish at all.

Spartacus in victory (image courtesy of

Spartacus in victory (image courtesy of

Race summary

The day started in typically lively fashion, with many riders buzzing around near the front of the peloton excitedly in the hope of slipping away in a break. Although it took a while, one did eventually form. Jetse Bol (Blanco), Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp), Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Belisol) and Michael Morkov (Saxo-Tinkoff) were the big names (or at least small names on big teams) off the front, while there were also three representatives of Pro Continental Belgian teams in the break, getting all-important TV air time for their sponsors.

By the time they had escaped, reigning champion Tom Boonen had already climbed into the back of an ambulance, with the population of Belgium feeling the pain of a bruised hip and a wound to the left elbow every bit as much as Boonen did. His Spring Classics campaign had been cut short by a crash inside the opening 20km, and while his injuries weren’t too serious they’re enough for him to be ruled out of Paris-Roubaix next weekend.

Things didn’t start to properly get interesting in racing terms until the Molenberg, with just over 120km of the race to go. Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) attacked off the front of the peloton, followed by the strong Classics duo of Maarten Tjallingii (Blanco) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), along with two riders from Europcar.

It didn’t take long for the new breakaway to catch the old one, merging to create a group which the peloton – and in particular the team of favourite Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) wasn’t all too keen to let away. The striped Leopards quickly amassed at the front of the peloton and shut the gap to just a few seconds.

But, they didn’t fully bring it back, and on the Rekelberg Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Belisol) attacked, making it across to the lead group which was quickly disintegrating. It was clear Lotto Belisol had something up their sleeve, as Sieberg was their third rider in the breakaway, which was allowed to open up a bigger advantage after a crash involving rank outsider Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco).

Nevertheless, it was never a gap big enough to cause any worry behind, though the peloton was slowed momentarily on the crazy Koppenberg, with riders off their bikes and pushing, tearing the bunch in half. There was some momentary concern 10km later when Cancellara had to stop for a wheel change, though it was smoothly done and with help from some convenient brake twiddling by his mechanic, he was quickly catapulted back into the peloton.

The break’s gap with 50km to go was just one minute, when escapees Greipel and Kwiatkowski took it upon themselves to force a higher pace. Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) had counter-attacked across and joined them, with a formidable chase group of Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Sebastien Hinault (IAM), Sebastien Turgot (Europcar), Tjallingii and, notably, Lotto team leader Jurgen Roelandts following suit.

With 20km to go and with the riders heading onto the Kwaremont, it was Roelandts who emerged the strongest, shredding Hinault on the climb. On the same climb Cancellara – who had been surprisingly quiet up until that point – made his first acceleration. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was – rather less surprisingly – the only rider in the peloton who could live with the pace. Any hopes that the likes of Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) and Pippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) had of causing an upset instantaneously evaporated.

Soon it was a lead trio of Cancellara, Sagan and Roelandts, with the Swiss making the decisive move on the Paterberg. His acceleration was truly brutal. There was no chance anyone could match him and his gap was, of course, insurmountable. The four-time world time trial champion proverbially slipped on his skinsuit and aerobars, and veritably cruised to the line.

Sagan mustered a clenched fist as he took second place, almost 1½ minutes in arrears of the victor, while Roelandts took a satisfactory third. Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff led home something resembling a peloton ten seconds later.

Here’s a video of the decisive attack:

And the final kilometres:

Analysis & opinion

For the second year in a row we have been cruelly denied the ding-dong Boonen-Cancellara battle in the major cobbled monuments. Having said that, I really doubt that Boonen, who’s been enduring such an annus horribilis, would have been able to stay up in the running. Even aside from his recent crash at Gent-Wevelgem he’s struggled for form, and what with Cancellara looking so strong, it would’ve been difficult for Boonen even in top form to have contested.

One of the race's unsung heroes, Hayden Roulsten (image courtesy of RadioShack-Leopard)

One of the race’s unsung heroes, Hayden Roulsten (image courtesy of RadioShack-Leopard)

The manner in which Cancellara won the race was interesting in that it was different to what we have been used to seeing from him before. For example, the last time he finished this race in 2011 (when he finished a late runner-up after being outsprinted by Nick Nuyens) he made his first proper move on the Leberg, some 20km further out than he did in this edition. The year before, when he won the race, he attacked 10km even further from the finish. Whether this change of approach was due to last year’s route change, a tweaked strategy to deal with the threat of Sagan or a combination of the two, it was nonetheless effective.

Quotes following the race have revealed more about how RadioShack-Leopard approached it, with Hayden Roulston – who did a heroic amount of work on the front, commenting: “Early in the race we went to the front with our plan to keep everyone together and stay in the front,” while Cancellara himself also reported that the team looked to control the race right until the Kwaremont, whittling down the peloton’s numbers: “It was so fast in the beginning and we had to take over early but I think that was the key. There were not so many riders left at the end.”

Even more so after the withdrawal of Boonen, there was no one racing who could match the power of Cancellara on the cobbles and hills. So, the strategy that RadioShack-Leopard took in just controlling the break before letting Spartacus loose nearer the finish was a safer option than allowing him to go so early, where he wouldn’t have had the manpower of Boonen to work with, and where there was a much bigger chance of him getting reeled in. It was a simple but effective plan.

Also deserving praise for how they rode are Lotto Belisol, who worked so hard throughout the day, trying to get countless riders into the breakaway with the hope of supporting their man Jurgen Roelandts when he made his move on the Kwaremont. It was a brave, aggressive plan and his third place finish was fully merited.


1. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) 6:06:01

2. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) +1:27

3. Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) +1:29

4. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) +1:39

5. Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) same time

6. Heinrich Haussler (IAM) s/t

7. Greg van Avermaet (BMC s/t

8. Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) s/t

9. John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) s/t

10. Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2012 Podium (image courtesy of Susi Goertze, CyclingInside)

Vuelta al Pais Vasco preview

Vuelta al Pais Vasco logoThe 53rd edition of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, a six-day WorldTour race, offers cobble-shy stage racers a safe haven, although not necessarily better weather as it often rains at this time of year in the Basque country. The event features on the palmares of riders such as Gino Bartali, Jacques Anquetil, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Laurent Jalabert. The all-time record holder is Jose Antonio Gonzalez, who won it four times in 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1978. The race is also famously featured in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises.

What kind of race is it?

The event is considered to be one of the more challenging stage races as there are no flat stages: plenty of mountains and a lumpy time trial. Overall winners tend to be riders who can both climb and time trial. While climbs in the Basque country are not long, like those in the Alps or Pyrenees, they are short, sharp and steep. The most recent winners of the race are:

2008: Alberto Contador (Astana)

2009: Alberto Contador (Astana)

2010: Chris Horner (RadioShack)

2011: Andreas Kloden (RadioShack)

2012: Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

What happened last year?

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won the queen stage and the final individual hilly time trial to take the overall win (and the points jersey), cementing his place in the hearts of the Basques and becoming only the second Euskaltel winner of the stage race after Iban Mayo in 2003. Sanchez had a royal battle with Joaquim Rodriguez, also a double stage-winner, who rode the time trial of his life to finish second overall and win the prize for ‘most elegant rider’. His Katusha team won the team prize. Equally, best young rider Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) rode a ballsy time trial in the pouring rain to move up on GC and round out the podium. Marco Pinotti (BMC) won the sprints jersey, while Saxo Bank’s Mads Christensen was top dog in the mountains and adjudged most aggressive rider. David Lopez (Movistar) was the best placed Basque rider.

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2012 Podium (image courtesy of Susi Goertze, CyclingInside)

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2012 podium (image courtesy of Susi Goetze, CyclingInside)

1. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 20:58:15

2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:12

3. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) +0:42

4. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +0:47

5. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:54

6. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) +1:03

7. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:07

8. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +1:19

9. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) +1:27

10. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +1:29

Here’s a link to the review of last year’s race.

This year’s race

This year’s event takes place in the countryside between Bilbao and San Sebastian, in and around the regional capital in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Typically stages loop in and around the finish town, with a number of different circuits, affording the fervent Basque fans plenty of viewing opportunities. It’s quite a small geographic area so that the riders and teams can spend almost the entire race based in the same hotel. It will however once again live up to its reputation as a tough race with a demanding route that includes two summit finishes, on stages three and four, and a closing-day individual time trial in Beasain. The parcours has plenty of trademark steep climbs on narrow roads, ten of which are concentrated in Friday’s queen stage, to ensure both exciting racing and plenty of tension until the race’s conclusion. Indeed, the stages get progressively more difficult as the week goes on and are capped by a 24km individual time trial which is both technical and demanding. There’s nothing here for the faint-hearted and little for the pure sprinter.

The first two stages both feature six and five climbs respectively and could reasonably be called lumpy. Stages three and four also have five climbs apiece and summit finishes – excellent preparation for Friday’s queen stage with a selection of ten ascents.

Vuelta al Pais Vasco Queen Stage 2013

If all goes according to plan, like last year, the winner will only be decided on the last stage, the tricky 24km individual time trial.

Who to watch

Will Richie be adding a big floppy beret to his collection of memorabilia? (image courtesy of Sky)

Will Richie be adding a big floppy beret to his collection of memorabilia? (image courtesy of Sky)

The 21 teams – the 19 WorldTour squads plus Caja Rural and Cofidis – are loaded with climbing talent, some of whom can time trial and others who can sprint on an uphill finish. Defending champion Samuel Sanchez is back but the Euskaltel team are trying to manage [Basque] expectations by saying he’s not yet at 100% – he’s saving that for the Giro d’Italia. Despite the absence of last year’s runner-up Joaquim Rodriguez, he’ll not lack for protagonists with Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), a previous two-time winner and Paris-Nice winner and Criterium International runner-up Richie Porte. BMC are bringing their in-form young gun Tejay van Garderen.

In total there are four recent winners taking part as RadioShack have both Andreas Kloden and Chris Horner with a strong supporting cast, including Andy Schleck, Jens Voigt and Maxime Monfort. Movistar are handing leadership duties to local boy Benat Intxausti who has Rui Costa for support, while Orica-GreenEDGE have former Volta a Catalunya winner Michael Albasini. Astana have Jakob Fuglsnag leading their charge. Last year’s third-placed Bauke Mollema returns with a strong supporting Blanco cast who’ll be looking to add to their already impressive palmares this season. The French teams too are mounting a challenge with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) and Jerome Coppel (Cofidis).

However, it’s hard to look beyond the headline acts for the overall but whatever happens I think we’re assured another absorbing, enthralling, nail-biting race and I’ll be there to see it. Can’t wait!

Race details

April 1st: Stage 1 – Elgoibar to Elgoibar, 156.5km

April 2nd: Stage 2 – Elgoibar to Vitoria-Gasteiz, 170.2km

April 3rd: Stage 3 – Vitoria-Gasteiz to Trapagaran-La Lejana, 167.7km

April 4th: Stage 4 – Traparagan to Eibar-Arrate, 151.6km

April 5th: Stage 5 – Eibar-Arrate to Beasain, 166.1km

April 6th: Stage 6 – Beasain, 24km individual time trial

The Vuelta al Pais Vasco starts on Monday 1st April and concludes on Saturday 6th. Live action will be shown daily on Eurosport. For other options check

Link: Official race website