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 rondevanvlaanderen.be)

Spartacus in victory (image courtesy of rondevanvlaanderen.be)

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.

Result

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

Tour du Haut Var review

Tour du Haut Var logoThis year’s Tour du Haut Var-Matin attracted a stellar cast whose performances didn’t disappoint despite the contrasting weather, with glorious warm sunshine on Saturday and a chilly damp Sunday with outbreaks of rain and hail. Arthur Vichot (FDJ), already prominent in the early season races, beat off more fancied opposition with his consistency on both stages to take overall victory. He rather cleaned up on the jerseys too, claiming those for the points and best young rider. RadioShack’s Laurent Didier was king of the mountains and Blanco were best team. Vichot finished on the same time overall as Blanco teammates Lars Boom and Laurens Ten Dam but his superior placings saw him claim the crown with the other two second and third respectively.

Race summary

Back with a bang (of thunder!), Norse God Thor Hushovd (BMC) buried his frustratingly dry 2012 season to take the first stage on a parcours perfectly suited to his powerful racing style.

Thor, the Norse god of war, allegedly patrolled the skies in a chariot pulled by two goats. Here it was his teammates Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinziato who brought him to the front with 200 metres remaining. Tour Down Under winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) tried to jump him but Thor still had one more throw of the hammer to hold off him and the advancing Arthur Vichot to record his first win since September 2011.

On the opening undulating 152.7km sprint-friendly stage from Le Cannet des Maures, an early trio had built a lead of eight minutes before being hauled back on the first of the day’s two small climbs with 55km remaining. This prompted a flurry of attacks as the peloton headed for the final five circuits around the finish in La Croix-Valmer. BMC, ever present in the leading group, controlled the final charge and guided Thor to victory.

While Thor himself was delighted to confirm his form with a victory, an old friend perhaps said it best:

After Saturday’s thunderous bang, on Sunday we had a Boom: Lars Boom (Blanco), who sprinted across the finish line on the second and final stage – a 207km parcours around Draguigan reminiscent of a Belgian semi-Classic – to add to his stage two victory in the recent Tour Mediterraneen.

Arthur Vichot (image courtesy of FDJ)

Arthur Vichot (image courtesy of FDJ)

Boom was one of the survivors of the day’s 15-man break which splintered in the circuit around the hill-top villages. Vichot, the day’s runner-up, only bridged across to the leaders on the run-in to the finish but managed to follow the decisive attack in the last 3km.  Daniel Oss finished third.

Boom and Vichot were tied on aggregate time with Laurens Ten Dam but Vichot got the nod on account of his superior placings – third and second. Stage one winner Hushovd led home the peloton to finish fifth overall.

Vichot was delighted with his victory and confirmed:

This is a race that I had in mind since the beginning of the season, with a course that suits me perfectly. I had good legs since the beginning of the year. My team was at my service and I am proud to have met their expectations.

Analysis & opinion

A number of team managers will have departed the Var feeling quietly confident of their charges’ form ahead of next weekend’s double-header in Belgium. [Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne – Ed.] The length and climatic conditions of Sunday’s stage will have been excellent training for those forthcoming races.

2013 podium l to r Boom, Vichot, Ten Dam (image courtesy of official race website)

Podium (l to r) Boom, Vichot, Ten Dam (image courtesy of official race website)

Most notably, BMC’s Thor Hushovd is getting back to his best and will soon be locking horns again with the other stage winner, Blanco’s Lars Boom, who has displayed excellent early season form. Indeed, in the search for a replacement sponsor the team have been firing on all cylinders. In addition, the management of both teams will have been delighted at the respective team efforts which resulted in those individual stage wins.

A number of French teams have been quickly out of the start gate, racking up points and wins both on home and foreign soil, none more so than FDJ who will have been delighted with Vichot’s overall win and the part played by his teammates, most notably team leader Perrick Fedrigo, who finished fourth overall. You may recall Vichot first came to the world’s attention when the Adelaide cycling club made him a viral star with their support in his maiden Tour Down Under in 2010.

Much to the disappointment of the crowd, one of the race’s much fancied runners, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was felled in Sunday’s slippery conditions thereby ending his race ambitions.

General classification

1. Arthur Vichot (FDJ) 9:00:28

2. Lars Boom (Blanco) same time

3. Laurens Ten Dam (Blanco) s/t

4. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +0:04

5. Thor Hushovd (BMC) +0:14

6. Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

7. Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) s/t

8. Justin Jules (La Pomme Marseille) s/t

9. Julien Simon (Sojasun) s/t

10. Mathieu Drujon (BigMat-Auber 93) s/t

Link: Official website

French early season races: Tour Méditerranéen review

TourMedlogoplusmap

The Tour Méditerranéen was wide open going into the final stage with the leading riders separated by a few seconds and the first ten on general classification separated by just one minute. In a nail-biting finish, Thomas Lovkvist (IAM) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) were left tied on time at the end of the four stages. Victory was awarded to the Swede on count-back – his first win since 2009 and his new Swiss team’s maiden win. Peraud was runner-up and Francesco Reda (Androni) took the third spot on the podium.

Final stage winner Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) won the points jersey, Diego Rosa (Androni Giocattoli) was best young rider, while neo-pro Theo Vimpere (Big Mat) was king of the cols.

Race summary

The in-form Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) won the opening day’s 141km stage from Limoux to Gruissan in a bunch sprint, beating Matteo Pelucchi (IAM) into second place with Maxime Daniel (Sojasun) third. The three-man break of the day had slipped away early on but was pulled back by the sprinters’ teams with 10km to go.

The powerhouse that is Lars Boom (Blanco) took victory – and the overall lead – in 32:35 on the 24km fast and largely flat individual time trial from Cap d’Agde to Mon-Saint-Clair. A nifty manoeuvre which saw former cyclo-cross world champion Boom change bikes at the foot of the only climb to the finish, gave him the edge over former Belgian time trial champion Maxime Monfort (RadioShack Leopard), who finished second 22 seconds down, with Anthony Roux (FDJ) third at 36 seconds back.

Not long after the stage finished, the riders discovered that Friday’s third stage from Marseille to Saint Remy de Provence was going to be an unscheduled rest day.

According to La Provence – the local press – Friday’s parcours in the finishing locale of Saint Rémy de Provence couldn’t be secured and, after failing to find an alternate route, the stage had to be cancelled.

Racing resumed on Saturday with a 151km stage from Rousset to Toulon, including the traditional mountain finish atop Mont Faron, which typically decides the Tour’s general classification winner. Sadly, my tip for the stage win – fellow Brummie Dan Martin – and his teammates awoke to find themselves without steeds!

Former mountain biker Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) attacked in the final 5km of the climb up Mont Faron to take his maiden professional road win. The last time the race finished here in 2011, Peraud was runner-up to now-retired David Moncoutie (Cofidis). Monfort assumed the race lead with a one-second advantage over previous leader Boom while Thomas Lovkvist (IAM) moved up to third overall.

An early eight-man break included friend of VeloVoices Geoffroy Lequatre (Bretagne-Seche) but race leader Boom’s Blanco team never allowed their lead to extend much beyond three minutes and the last of the escapees was safely back in the main pack before the final ascent. Peraud’s teammate Matteo Montaguti led him up the climb in the company of Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), who subsequently faded. Francesco Reda (Androni) and Bauke Mollema (Blanco) led home the pursuing pack.

On Sunday’s concluding stage Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) went on the attack again on the final climb, just overhauling Reda in the last few hundred metres. with Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) finishing third.

There was a large escape group of 17 riders but the presence of perennial escape artist Jeremy Roy (FDJ), at only 1:30 down on GC, ensured they were never given too much leeway. Roy, Blel Kadri (Ag2r) and Jon Izagirre (Eusklatel) broke ranks on the Col du Tanneron and were later joined by others from the original break but they were all subsumed back into the peloton for the final charge up to Grasse. Reda was the first to go on the offensive but he was ultimately matched and overhauled by Roelandts. Meanwhile, Lovkvist had managed to give both Monfort  – who finished fourth overall – and Boom the slip to move himself up to top spot.

Analysis & opinion

A beaming victor, Thomas Lovkvist (image courtesy of IAM)

A beaming victor, Thomas Lovkvist (image courtesy of IAM)

A quick gander at the general classification reveals a number of riders who have clearly benefitted from the move to new teams. Not least the overall winner, Thomas Lovkvist, who has re-emerged from the Sky chrysalis as an IAM butterfly to record his first win since his 2009 triple. Stephen Roche, on the podium for the presentation ceremony, will have been delighted to see his son Nico’s move to Saxo-Tinkoff beginning to bear fruit with a strong ride to fifth overall. Likewise, Alexandre Geniez, who had an uncomfortable final season with the Argonauts, finished ninth for new team FDJ.

Two final thoughts. I loved the new spotty sleeved maillots at this year’s Tour and I’d like to wish Marco Pinotti (BMC) a speedy recovery from his time trial crash in which he fractured two ribs and injured his shoulder.

General classification

1. Thomas Lovkvist (IAM) 12:27:24

2. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time

3. Francesco Reda (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) +0:11

4. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack Leopard) +0:16

5. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:20

6. Bauke Mollema (Blanco) +0:30

7. Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) +0:41

8. Gustav Larsson (IAM) +0:50

9. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) s/t

10: Arthur Vichot (FDJ) +1:06

Link: Official website