Weekend wrap

Monday, 28 March 2011

Two takes from the weekend’s racing: the Boonen-Cancellara duel and why the Critérium International needs reviewing.

Cancellara leads
The weekend saw Cancellara win on Saturday and Boonen win on Sunday. With the Tour of Flanders coming up, some thoughts on their relative abilities.

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.

New clues
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.

Open
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.

Criterium International

Dull format
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.

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{ 18 comments }

Starr March 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm

De Panne is always an iffy choice for the stronger RVV/Roubaix protagonists.

On one hand, you stay in “rhythm” with the cobbles and echelons.

On the other hand, crashes or a race that is just too hard can sap the body of reserves that may not be replaced in a short two days rest.

I suppose the top guys have figured out what works for themselves over the years. As long as the sponsors/directors support them that is.

Crit Intl was like watching paint dry, compared to the Belgie weekend of knock-out competition.

natalie March 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Kiryienka has been one to watch for a while now so I’m rather hoping he makes that move into getting some good results again after being a Caisse workhorse for the majority of last year year. A very good workhorse but one of those guys you want to see what they can do for themselves (and a podium at Criterium International is a good sign).
Always good to see Taaramae performing and I do have a fondess for the Schlecks especially when they are competing and not just out for a ride in the sun.
I’d agree that the race lacked drama though, Frank’s win was a done deal on the Saturday. With several riders finishing outside of the time limit on that first stage, it meant some of the sprinters didn’t even make it to “their stage”. Chances for other people naturally but a bit of a bust for those who miss out.

Boonen’s win on Sunday was a genuine surprise. Coming after his complaints about the race not to mention the pressure to get the World Tour points, I just wasn’t sure whether he – or indeed the team – would perform in those circumstances so respect due to all of them.

E3 Prijs was a disappointment for me. I can respect Cancellara’s performance and his ability but when he destroys the field then my interest in the race just disappears. Like last year, you can see riders just giving up hope and resigning themselves to race for second. Good for Fabian for winning despite mechanicals and a weak team and good for Leopard Trek but he kills the competition aspect quite thoroughly. It’s a spectacle still in a form but lacks excitement or anticipation.
I don’t think Cancellara has anyone to fear for the upcoming big races.

beev March 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

natalie – personally, i’m still dumbstruck with awe at (yet) another demolition by fabian, but this difference in opinion is what makes cycling beautiful. such rides like this aren’t seen very often – this year there is bobridge in the nationals as the only real comparison i can think of that is on such a level….

Yannick March 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm

And if ASO changed the stage so we have sprinter stage in the morning on Saturday with the time trial, then the mountain stage on Sunday? I think this could make the main stage more interesting because it makes the climbers attack early.

Starr March 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm

@ Natalie

I agree w/ Beev. Cancellara’s absolute domination and rip-roar from group to group after mechanicals was an incredible feat to watch. Guys literally could not get on his wheel, let alone hold it for more than a second. We call that “Merckx style”. I doubt you’ll have to worry about another slaughter this weekend.

Garmin, Quickstep, Lotto, Liquigas and BMC will throw everything they have at him and Leopard these next two Sunday’s. The competitors must isolate and attack.

Boring to me, are stage races that are decided halfway through. Lance winning the first mountain and TT stage at the Tour, then defending against guys that cannot make up a single minute.

JustJoshinYa March 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

The E3 was amazing! I am enjoying every second of Cancellara’s incredible performances because I am not sure we’ll see someone this dominate again in a very long time. To puncture, chase, bike change, chase, attack, then tow a group that was visibly being hurt by him for a while, then attack again and literally cramp the competition (yes I know that is an exaggeration) – AMAZING! The post race interviews from the others dropped by Cance were telling – They said things like “pain”, “he’s too powerful”, “too strong”, etc, etc, etc. It wasn’t a dominating performance – it was embarrassing. I just think Cance is on another planet right now and we are witnessing something special.

Boonen’s sprint win at GW was good…but not nearly the show of strength Cance put in. His team is strong, and he needed the confidence boost GW gives him, but I also think he needs the other bigs (Hushovd, Flecha, Pipo, Devo, etc) to team up and hit Cance repeatedly. Cance may be neutralized somewhat by everyone sticking to him like glue – but eventually he’ll just break them and ride away – so they have to attack, attack, attack. GONNA BE AWESOME!

Tim March 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Indeed the Quickstep Flanders squad seems much more impressive than the Leopard outfit. One name which should definitely be added to the trio Boonen-Chavanel-Steegmans is that of Terpstra. He will probably even be saved for the final stages of the race as a substitute team leader. In other words, yet another Quickstep card to play.

hamncheeze March 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm

I definitely enjoy watching Cancellara when he has form like that. The raw power he uses to win like that, it is tactic like no other as it basically eliminates the need for any tactics. His winning attack at GP E3 was superb, he just countered Tankink and rode away. Every other rider in the group knew it was coming and there was nothing they could do about it. Watching Tankink have to sit up in full leg-lock was very telling about the situation for every other rider in the group. I know it stitches up the race finale, but there is no way someone could watch that race and not be impressed with Fabian.

I may be wrong, but I think Boonen is shy on form compared to any other year when he has been a protagonist at the Ronde or Roubaix. His win on Sunday was good but to be honest Gent-Wevelgem is kind of a boring raced compared to E3, with less bergs and 35 km from the final climb to the finish. I don’t really think the finishers in the front group are completely indicative of the Ronde contenders, they are vastly different races. It is a shame that because of the World Tour importance we see Sky and HTC giving E3 the pass.

For the Ronde, I think Fabian has to worry mostly about Gilbert, and perhaps Ballan or Haussler. BMC and Garmin have strong, deep teams but both are needing the results and I am certain Garmin is starting to feel the pressure really start to build up after another winless (mens) weekend.

Finally, a hearty “boo” to the stupid cameraman who brought down Offredo after the line on Sunday!

The Inner Ring March 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Natalie/beev/Starr/JustJoshinYa /hamncheeze: I think Cancellara’s win good to watch. Last year in Paris-Roubaix he sneaked away (http://inrng.com/?p=158) but this time we got to see him pick off everyone almost one by one.

Yannick: that’s a simple idea and it has a certain logic. I suspect they might change the venue a bit in order to test the Tour de France stages a bit for next year.

Tim: yes, a great point. Terpstra is having a great spring so far.

Matt March 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm

I think Boonen’s form is behind, but I believe that is purposeful. I believe that Cance dominated the Ronde last year but was less strong and more strategic at P-R, and I think that Boonen peaked too soon last year. I think that Cance will peak next weekend in a race, which I believe Boonen is less suited for (as compared to P-R), and I hope that Boonen can take advantage of Cance’s somewhat early peak. If Boonen does nothing more than make P-R more interesting, that would be great.

The only way to beat Cance at the Ronde is if all the teams gang up on him, and he is unable to conserve energy until he must expend it. I don’t see any individual challengers to Cance–just teams.

Flashing Pedals March 28, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I agree that to beat Cancellara, he needs to be isolated, BUT the big problem is this :
to isolate him, the others either have to attack him early, and place what team mates he has, under pressure. Flanders is a ‘early break’ then by the kwaremont the big guns start looking for the moments. By this stage the race is a war of attrition and at most, teams are reduced to 1-2 riders from same team, so the odds are reduced & the odds are back in Fabian’s favour.

QuickStep with Boonen Chavanel Terpstra may make a difference, but Cancellara has a few good team mates, and Rabobank have had an exceptional start to the season.
It may be that whilst watching the obvious, a rival team benefits from that…

natalie March 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Starr and Beev: I can completely understand and appreciate other people finding Cancellara’s performance enjoyable to watch. I respect both that perspective and his ability to demolish the field but it’s not what I want to see at Flanders or Roubaix. That’s just personal preference and opinion though.
I am in no doubt of Cancellara’s quality or how awe-inspiring his performances can be, but such dominant performances are not always a thrill to watch – sometimes it’s a masterclass and sometimes it’s an anticlimax (and that’s true of many athletes at the top of their game in any sport).
Us fans don’t all look for or want to see the same things and I don’t find anything wrong in that at all.

A slightly related aside is that I would have loved to have seen a fit Matti Breschel competing at the classics this year. He had so much promise and fight last year that it’s a shame he’s not able to take part. I’d like to have seen him in the mix.

sillyoldbugger March 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm

In both the Milan-San Remo and the GP E3, the Trek Leopard rider who made the race for Cancellara (although Cancellara didn’t quite finish off the MSR), was Stuart O’Grady. When he’s fit, he (and Jens) are possibly the hardest workers in the peleton. Whist Quickstep has some good riders on paper, they have done little or nothing so far this season except GW.

cthulhu March 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I wonder why nobody is calling motor doping yet. ;)
But it was so similar to last year’s Ronde and PR. Cancellara changes bikes, rides away from everybody.

And I agree with hamandcheeze, watch for Gilbert at the Ronde, he tested a bit at GW and he’s been strong for some time now.

leif March 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Cancellara is a smooth dood. Watching him drop him drop in tt position and be fluid is amazing.
His cadence is near perfect.
It seems like the bike swap might be strategy. Fresh bike to finish a race?

The Inner Ring March 28, 2011 at 10:58 pm

natalie: Breschel is already a favourite for the Worlds in his home country, at least he’s got something to look forward to.

sillyoldbugger: yes, Stewie is a wise old dog these days with big endurance. He’s a great asset for his team.

cthulhu: don’t mention the electric bike! Actually the “electric bike” story sort of made this blog. I started it last year in February and the audience exploded when I was the first English-speaking source to cover talk of the electric bike. In a world where people struggle to believe things, they can often cling to weird ideas!

cthulhu March 28, 2011 at 11:10 pm

@tIR: then the “electric bike” story had it’s positive sides, too. Well, besides the silly fun one had trolling on the net. ;)

bikecellar March 29, 2011 at 12:04 am

I have not seen a start sheet for the Ronde but having seen the De Panne start sheet it’s who’s missing that’s interesting, most of the main protaganists for Sunday seem to be training/resting instead of racing, little frenchman name of Voeckler for one but then do Europecar get a start in the Ronde?

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