Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) fired a warning shot ahead of the major cobbled monuments, brushing off his rivals with a thrilling solo effort which saw him riding out front alone for 35km to take victory in E3 Harelbeke. It was the Swiss’ third win in the last four years, with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Daniel Oss (BMC) in second and third respectively.
Eloy Teruel (Movistar), Anders Lund (Saxo-Tinkoff), Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil-DCM), Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), Koen Barbe (Crelan-Euphony) and Stefan van Dijk (Accent Jobs-Wanty) were the riders who escaped in the day’s main breakaway though, as suggested by the absence of any riders from the favourites’ teams, they were never given any chance of staying away by the peloton.
In fact, the bunch made sure the six escapees were reeled in nice and early and with 65km left things were all back together – though not for long. On the climb of the Taaienberg with around 60km remaining Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) made the first move of the favourites, immediately closed down by a group of approximately eight riders containing Fabian Cancellara, Daniel Oss and Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Conspicuous by his absence was Peter Sagan, whose mistimed bike change meant he missed both the initial escape and a four-man chase group which soon accelerated off the front of the peloton, including Lars Boom (Blanco), and Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS), with Boonen’s team clearly looking to provide support for their leader in his bid for victory.
With 55km to go the chase group caught the leaders, while Cannondale looked to make up Sagan’s lost time by setting a mean pace on the front of the peloton. After around 10km of riding on the front, they had pulled it all back, completely shredding the entire field in the process.
Cancellara, though, was as strong as ever. Attacking off the cobbles of the famous Kwaremont with 35km remaining, he cranked up the speed, with no-one able to live with the pace. The gap grew out to over a minute in 10km, and while Sagan did his best to rally the troops behind, there was never any chance of a catch being made.
The Swiss crossed the line with over a minute in hand on Sagan and Oss, with Geraint Thomas (Sky) taking an impressive fourth place. Four seconds further back were Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS), while Boonen headed the bunch’s charge in seventh place, over two minutes behind the overall winner.
Analysis and opinion
With the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix just around the corner, in analysing this race one can’t help but focus on what this might reveal about what we’ll see there. There’s no doubt that Cancellara will be the hot favourite after riding such a flawless race, though today may well suggest that Boonen still has some work to do to – and may already have run out of time to find his form.
Perhaps he was sandbagging after he saw Cancellara ride off into the distance, though the fact he couldn’t even stay with the second group of riders doesn’t bode well. Winner of both Flanders and Roubaix Eddy Planckaert agreed, saying that neither Boonen nor his anonymous compatriot Philippe Gilbert (BMC), are in good enough shape to win. The latter has an excuse – he’s more interested in the Ardennes Classics – though Boonen certainly isn’t.
With Gilbert failing to deliver, BMC had their success story in the third placed rider Daniel Oss. The Italian certainly deserves praise after showing the power and promise which saw him snapped up from Liquigas in the winter. A strong, fast finisher, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t excel on these semi-Classics, as he did here.
1. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) 5:08:28
2. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) 01:04
3. Daniel Oss (BMC) same time
4. Geraint Thomas (Sky) s/t
5. Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:08
6. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
7. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +2:15
8. Luca Paolini (Katusha) s/t
9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t
10. Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) s/t