Paris-Roubaix Review: Knife-edge win for Spartacus

Paris-Roubaix logoWhen Fabian Cancellara signed in last this morning for the start of Paris-Roubaix, he was the overwhelming favourite. But being the overwhelming favourite means that you’re a marked man, that no other team helps you, no one wants you behind them and everyone wants to ride against you. In the past, this has often scuppered Cancellara’s chances for the top step on the podium. Today, not much of that happened at all. Cancellara used his team to perfection, kept his cards close to his chest, seemed to be welcome in the final breaks, bluffed it out with a cunningly timed drop back to the team car and used experience over brute force to take his third title with a velodrome sprint finish. Yes. A sprint finish.

Paris-Roubaix 2013 podium (Image: Official website)

Sep Vanmarcke, Fabian Cancellara, Niki Terpstra – the Paris-Roubaix 2013 podium (image: official website)

Race summary

In crystal clear, cold conditions, the race started out with a 13-man breakaway which, with riders from both RadioShack and Omega Pharma-Quick Step among the group, was allowed to go up the road without ever proving a threat and were caught before the first set of cobbles. From this came a break of four – 2007 winner Stuart O’Grady (Orica-GreenEDGE), Gert Steegmans (OPQS), Mathew Hayman (Sky) and Clement Koretzky (Bretagne-Seche) – which got away around the 125km mark, and built a 2:10 lead before reaching sector 18, the Forest of Arenberg. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who lit up the Ronde last week with a similar solo break, went off the front of the peloton to try to bridge but the Gorilla never quite got there, getting reeled in before the break hit the famed five-star cobbled section.

The chase through Arenberg was led by BMC’s Taylor Phinney, who had been tipped as a contender for a podium place. He looked strong, whittling down the break’s advantage to 37 seconds, while his teammate Thor Hushovd, the stated leader of the team, suffered mechanical after mechanical. Geraint Thomas (Sky), another rider who was tipped for glory, found himself in the mud of the ploughed-up side of the Arenberg – the first of a handful of falls that would plague the Welshman.

By the end of the sector, Steegmans and Hayman were the only two left of that original break and continued to work together, taking advantage of the feedzone to extend their lead to 50 seconds. At 70km to the finish, in sector 15, the ditch once again played host to Geraint Thomas, when the middle of the peloton went from riding to sprawling and the ditch caught the over-spill. From here, little attacks came off the front of the peloton at regular intervals and in various combinations: Michael Schar (BMC), then Europcar’s Damien Gaudin, Ian Stannard (Sky), Matti Breschel (Saxo-Tinkoff), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Niki Terpstra (OPQS).

Cancellara stayed quiet until he started ramping up the pace on the front of the peloton in sector 11, splintering the peloton, never to be put back together. By sector 10, the break was caught and a group of 13 riders formed, including Cancellara, Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS), Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Bernie Eisel (Sky), Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS) and Heinrich Haussler (IAM). An unfortunate mechanical just after the 40km mark took Chavanel out of the equation and the pace and the attacks split the group into three smaller ones: the first with Vanmarcke, Vandenbergh, Seb Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Gaudin; Flecha, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Paolini and Zdenek Stybar (OPQS) in the middle, and the third group of Cancellara, Terpstra, Eisel and Lars Boom (Blanco). At this point, Cancellara went back to the team car as though he might be in trouble. He had a chat, winced a bit, took a sticky bottle, let everyone ponder what might be wrong and then put the pedal to the metal to catch the Flecha group, just as Vandenbergh and Vanmarcke went off the front on their own.

With 22km to go, Cancellara put in an attack that only Stybar could bear and they went off in hot pursuit of the two Belgians in front, catching them just ahead of sector five. Unlike other races, the break seemed happy to work with Cancellara as opposed to making him sit on the front and drag them all to the line. Sector four, the five-star Carrefour de l’Arbre, was where Vandenbergh hit an oblivious fan who strayed too close to the side and was sent sprawling over the cobbles, whittling down the leaders to three. Just seconds later, Stybar hit another fan on the roadside, losing contact with Cancellara and Vanmarcke (but his cyclocross skills ensured he didn’t hit the ground). He lost more time by taking a corner too hard and having to unclip. In no time, he was 30 seconds from the two leaders.

The smart money for the win at this point was heading towards Vanmarcke, the better sprinter of the two. But Cancellara was playing a wily game and Vanmarcke was happy to take his turns on the front, giving him time to regroup. Vanmarcke took the lead on the cobbles of sector two with Cancellara sitting comfortably on his wheel. The Swiss rider had a dig at 4km but Vanmarcke was able to neutralise it. When they reached the Roubaix velodrome, they nearly came to a standstill as Cancellara forced his opponent in front. When Vanmarcke wound up the sprint, Cancellara powered by him to take his third Paris-Roubaix and his second Flanders-Roubaix double.

Cancellara fell to the ground with exhaustion, Vanmarcke leant on his bike in tears and Niki Terpstra took the third step of the podium.

Analysis & opinion

There was nothing called instinct at the end, it was just a fight. I went to a level sometimes you don’t know how you can do it. I went beyond my limits. I’m happy but I was probably more happy that the race was finished. Then I had a minute to lie down on the grass, back to planet earth. I damaged myself probably more than ever.

The only thing that was correctly predicted about this race was that Fabian Cancellara would add a cobblestone trophy to his collection. Whereas Cancellara has been seen in the past few years as a one-trick pony – attack, get a metre and never look back as he time-trials to the win – today saw a more patient, more cunning, more calculating Cancellara. With his team finally coming together and able to help him through much of the race, he was able to keep in the pack without having to single-leggedly chase down breaks all day.

Later, when he couldn’t shake Vanmarcke, the power he used seemed to be that of Jedi mind-tricks as Vanmarcke willingly worked with Cancellara almost up to the velodrome. From there, the brute force that Cancellara used was simply to make sure Vanmarcke was in front on the boards so he could sweep past him for the win. A little rope-a-dope, a little intimidation: Spartacus might be getting older but he’s also getting more ruthless in his tactics.

But certainly, if there had been four coming into the velodrome, chances are that Cancellara would not have won. It’s said that the best equipped, best prepared riders win Roubaix – but only if they have luck on their side. Or rather, as long as Lady Luck hasn’t turned her face away like she did with Stijn Vandenbergh and Zdenek Stybar. If they hadn’t hit those two spectators, what would have happened? Two OPQS riders working together to neutralise Cancellara … it could have so easily been a very different result.

Result

1. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) 5:45:33

2. Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco) same time

3. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0.31

4. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) s/t

5. Damien Gaudin (Europcar) s/t

6. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0.39

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

8. Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

9. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) +0.50

10. Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) s/t

Links: Preview, Official website

TotW: The Good, the Bad & the Asinine

It’s a bumper issue of Tweets of the Week – we have all the news and debate from the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

The Good

Fabian Cancellara came to the race on Sunday ready to Ronde but days before, @Ponckster found Fabs’ Flanders plan of attack so we weren’t surprised by his victory.

RVV Fabs plan to win
Continue reading

Tour de Pologne review

The Tour de Pologne concluded with overall victory for promising youngster Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale) and his team’s successful defence of the title won last year by Peter Sagan. Moser had won the opening stage and taken the leader’s jersey only to temporarily concede it a couple of stages later. He retook the jersey in spectacular fashion on stage six and never looked like relinquishing it again.

Traditionally, this race has both highlighted and confirmed up and coming talent, and this year was no exception. Ben Swift (Sky) won the points classification, Adrian Kurek (Utensilnord-Named) again won the intermediate sprints jersey, Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM) took home the King of the Mountains title, while runner-up Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was the best placed Polish rider. Young Colombian Sergio Henao (Sky) rounded out the podium. A quick scan of the stage podiums also reveals young burgeoning talent, as does the overall classification. For example, Giro stage winner Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) in sixth place overall has picked up more valuable points for his team while want-away riders Alexandre Geniez (Argos-Shimano) and Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack-Nissan) will have added to their marketability.

When you consider what the riders who lit up 2011’s Tour de Pologne – notably Sagan, Dan Martin and Marcl Kittel – have gone on to achieve in the intervening period, just take note of the names who’ve illuminated this year’s race and rendered oblivious a field of talented and experienced sprinters, climbers and stage racers.

Moreno Moser winner of Tour de Pologne 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)

Moreno Moser winner of Tour de Pologne 2012 (image courtesy of official race website)

VeloVoices was keeping an eye on the wonderfully named neo-pro, Colombian on Lampre’s squad, Winner Ancona, who comes from a track background and finished 10th overall in the recent Tour of Slovenia, rode in support of his team leader and, as a consequence, finished just outside the top 100.

Stage 1: Golebiewski Karpacz to Jelenia Gora, 179.5km

Another of Liquigas’s talented youngsters, 21-year-old Moreno Moser, stole the show with a sprint victory –  and the first leader’s jersey – ahead of local Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Lars Boom (Rabobank). A five-man breakaway spent most of the stage with their noses in front only to be hauled back by the sprinters’ teams with just over 20km remaining and before the final climb of the day. Two of Kwiatkowski’s team mates Niki Terpstra and Tom Boonen fell on a slippery descent, the former abandoned while the latter was able to continue in his recently acquired Belgian national champion’s kit.

Stage 2: Walbrzych to Opole, 239.4km

Not content with hogging the limelight in France, Sky’s Ben Swift timed his sprint to perfection to beat fellow track star Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Boonen by half a bike length. Sky took control of the peloton on the two final circuits, although they appeared to have ceded it to Rabobank in the last kilometre but the Dutch team was unable to hold the pace to set up their sprinter Theo Bos. Instead Sky executed the perfect lead out for Swift, dropping him off with 150m to go, from where he managed to hold off the Italian’s late surge.  Overnight leader Moser came home in the main bunch to retain the leader’s jersey.

Stage 3: Kedzierzyn-Kozle to Cieszyn, 201.7km

Zdenek Stybar winner of stage 3 (image courtesy of official race website)

Zdenek Stybar, winner of stage 3 (image courtesy of official race website)

Czech cyclo-cross star Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) sprinted to his first WorldTour win – his biggest victory on the road  – beating Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) and Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox), after getting into a late move in the final three circuits around Cieszyn. That, and subsequent moves, were brought back by the bunch before Stybar’s team mates set up the winning move for him on the last corner, 500 metres before the finish. The Czech rider was delighted to take a win on the stage which had a brief incursion into his home country.

Stage 4: Bedzin to Katowice, 127.8km

Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEDGE) recorded his maiden WorldTour win in his rookie season coming off the wheel of stage two’s victor Swift on the fast and flat run in to the finish on another largely circuit stage. Rabobank’s Bos was third.

The Polish national road race champion, Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) had attacked with 10km to go but was swiftly brought back into the fold by Sky, who controlled the latter portion of the race intent on setting Swift up for another win.

Local Kwiatkowski took over the race leadership from  Moser after his teammate Boonen worked as his poisson pilote to ensure he took precious bonus seconds on the intermediate sprint.

Stage 5: Rabka-Zdroj to Zakopane, 163.1km

Stage 5 winner Ben Swift (image courtesy of official race website)

Stage 5 winner Ben Swift (image courtesy of official race website)

Swift took his second stage on the long, uphill drag to the finish, just besting Viviani, who finished second – again – with Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) third. Swift strengthened his grip on the points jersey while race leader Kwiatkowski finished sixth to retain the jersey.

The day’s lumpy stage began with the obligatory breakaway, but they were kept largely within easy reach by the race leader’s team.  Orica-GreenEDGE’s Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot used the break to his advantage setting himself up as kingpin in the mountains. The peloton was all back together with just over 3km remaining but the finish proved to be more testing than many anticipated and it was Swift who timed his surge to perfection much to the chagrin of the runner-up who indulged in a spot of handle-bar thumping.

Stage 6: Bukovina Terma Hotel Spa to Bukowina Tatrzanska, 191.8km

Moser perfectly timed his late attack to cruelly deny Sky’s Sergio Henao on the line, with time bonuses enabling him to retake the leader’s yellow jersey with a five-second advance on Kwiatkowski who fought hard to finish third, but it wasn’t enough for him to hold onto the jersey.

The day’s stage contained 15 climbs, ten of them classified. While mountains leader Teklehaimanot took the first points, he surrendered his jersey to Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM), who was in the day’s breakaway which was overhauled by Henao’s initial attack at the foot of the final categorised climb. Henao attacked again as he crested the climb and soloed almost to the line where he was overtaken by Moser’s late and well-timed surge. This was where the overall was won by Moser who, as Francesco Moser’s nephew continued his family’s long and successful cycling heritage.

Stage 7: Krakow to Krakow, 131.4km

Stage 7 winner John  Degenkolb (image courtesy of official race website)

Stage 7 winner John Degenkolb (image courtesy of official race website)

The final circuit race around the historic town of Krakow saw John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) return to winning ways. In the pouring rain, his mud-splattered Argonaut team mates provided the perfect lead-out train to best Sky’s double stage winner Swift and Mathew Hayman in the sprint. A 12-man breakaway had escaped early and split into two on the last of the circuit’s seven laps before being taken back, at which point it started to rain heavily rendering the circuit treacherous. But that didn’t prevent Argos-Shimano taking charge and delivering Degenkolb to his fifth win of the season.

Moser and the other GC contenders finished safely in the peloton, thereby missing out on bonus seconds, and confirming Liquigas’s second consecutive victory in the seven-day WorldTour stage race.

General classification:

1. Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale) 30:15:49

2. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:05

3. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:06

4. Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) +0:26

5. Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:28

6. Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:29

7. Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Nissan) same time

8. Alexandre Geniez (Argos-Shimano) s/t

9. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t

10. Javier Moreno (Movistar) s/t

Links: PreviewOfficial website