Fabian Cancellara joined the elite group of riders who have won the Ronde van Vlaanderen three times, outsprinting Greg van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke at the end of an extraordinary race.
If there were any doubts that Fabian Cancellara (Trek) is the best classics rider in the world, this race ought to have dispelled them. It was an extraordinary victory – certainly not his most emphatic, but perhaps his most impressive. Not only did he demonstrate superhuman strength and dogged persistence, but a brilliant tactical mind which saw him edge out a couple of faster sprinters in the final dash to the line.
Cancellara was uncharacteristically quiet until he made his decisive move on the final ascent of the Kwaremont, though he demonstrated that, in cycling, patience is very much a virtue. When his attack eventually came it shed both Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). In fact, the only man who could live with his pace was Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), with the duo quickly catching the two leaders Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS) and Greg van Avermaet (BMC).
The lead four skirmished right through to the final kilometre, though Cancellara was visibly keen not to partake in any of the premature attacks and subsequent chases. It paid off in an extraordinary final few metres, which saw the quadruplet practically slow to a track stand, before with just 300 metres left Spartacus opened up his sprint and edged out the others to the line.
Tornado Tom a damp squib
It was a disappointing day for home favourite Tom Boonen, whose challenge for a record-breaking fourth Ronde never really materialised, with the Belgian eventually finishing seventh. He was sat alongside the other main favourites until Cancellara’s attack on the Kwaremont, where he struggled to keep pace. He’s been struggling with a thumb injury since E3 Harelbeke, and perhaps that held him back. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the era-defining Boonen-Cancellara classics rivalry.
It wasn’t just Boonen who underperformed, but Peter Sagan (Cannondale) too. The Slovak looked like he was riding himself into form just in time for this race, but he eventually wound up missing out on the top ten altogether. He seemed to run out of teammates pretty quickly, and perhaps paid the price for lacking the real classics specialists like OPQS’s Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh to nurse him through the gruelling kilometres.
We hoped that this race would be rather less crash-infested than last week’s Gent-Wevelgem, by virtue of the fewer climbs and longer stretches of road. However the opposite proved true, with this Ronde marred by crashes throughout. One of the many fallers was two-time Ronde winner Stijn Devolder (Trek), who hit the deck hard on at least three separate occasions. Incredibly, he climbed back on the bike every time, no doubt wanting to do justice to the Belgian national champion’s jersey. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been much prouder if he’d even won the race. Chapeau, or hoed!
Race at a glance
6 – Fabian Cancellara becomes the sixth rider to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen three times, following in the footsteps of Achiel Buysse, Fiorenzo Magni, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen.
8 – Cancellara is the eighth rider in history to win the race twice running. Only the aforementioned Magni has won Flanders three times in succession.
4 – This is Switzerland’s fourth win at the Ronde, though only three of them are Cancellara’s. Prior to Spartacus’ first win back in 2010, they’d not won since Heiri Suter‘s 1923 success in the race’s seventh edition.
5 – Sep Vanmarcke is becoming quite adept at playing the role of the bridesmaid, with this his fifth classic/semi-classic top five of the season so far.
1. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) 6:15:25
2. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) same time
3. Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) s/t
4. Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
5. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) +0:20
6. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
7. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:28
8. Geraint Thomas (Sky) s/t
9. Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) s/t
10. Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp) s/t