Two takes from the weekend’s racing: the Boonen-Cancellara duel and why the Critérium International needs reviewing.
Man to man
Cancellara looks by far the stronger. His demonstration in the GP E3 was amazing. He blew the bunch away on the Oude Kwaremont, then picked his way through the riders ahead, leaving them all trailing in his wake. By contrast, I was impressed by Boonen’s powerful sprint, he lead from the front but was aided by the presence of Sylvain Chavanel up front. Had he taken a different wheel in the finish, things could have been different. Clearly his win was no fluke but it relied on team work, good placing and pipping other riders rather than an hour of raw power.
Team to team
It’s here that things look interesting. As strong as Cancellara might be, his team is not as powerful. It’s got helpers like Stuart O’Grady, Joost Posthuma and Wouter Weylandt, plus Daniele Bennati as a wildcard. But Quick Step has Gert Steegmans and Sylvain Chavanel, both of whom can play a role in the final. The obvious tactic is to send Chavanel up the road to force Cancellara’s hand.
The upcoming Three Days of De Panne will provide fresh clues of who is doing well and who is off the pace. Last year David Millar took a surprise win but confirmed with a strong performance in the closing stages of De Ronde. It’s also a very dangerous race with narrow roads and some smaller teams hungry for a win. I wouldn’t be surprised if a contender for Sunday gets ruled out by a crash.
The beauty of the sport is the way it is so open. The short hills break up the race and riders need form, team work and luck to ensure they are still in contention after 200km. As much as we might anticipate a duel between two riders, plenty of others will want their say next Sunday.
From open racing to something a bit less exciting… another other part of the weekend’s racing was in Corsica. The Critérium International has long been a favourite race of mine and I was hoping the move to Corsica would make it even better. Fine weather, stunning roads and tough terrain should mean a great race. Yet the event seems to have lost a bit of momentum. If anything the race is too mountainous in that whoever wins the opening stage has the race stitched up, especially since there are time bonuses at stake. Also, as soon as they knew they were down on time, several time trial specialists cut their engines on the climb, saving themselves for the following day. ASO know how to organise a race, here’s hoping they review the formula.
Hope and expectations
It was good to see the Schleck brothers in action after they’d been separated for Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. On the final climb of the day a classic 1-2 move saw Frank take a clear win. Frenchman Jérôme Coppel was hoping for something but stomach problems put him out of contention. A shame since it would have been good to see just what he can do, even if it meant discovering he can’t deliver. But there were some names confirming their talents, Rein Taaramae in particular but the French are getting excited by Skil-Shimano’s Alexandre Geniez, a climbing prospect. Movistar’s Vasili Kiryienka is also a name to watch.