What a race. What a season. I’ve seen enough racing this season to satisfy me for some time to come and Johan Vansummeren’s win today is one big part of all of this.
It wasn’t a Hollywood script. At one point we saw Fabian Cancellara attack on the cobbles and only Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Ballan could follow. The Swiss rider put the power down and was content to chase the breakaway. But there came a point where he asked the other two to take a turn, they refused and he sat up. Suddenly Hushovd and Ballan looked confused.
Should they work with Cancellara at the risk of taking him up to the front? Or would it be better for them to get up there too, knowing they’d have numerical superiority with team mates over an isolated Cancellara? It looked pitiful as both riders reached for their radios, mimicking an angina attack. Soon after Cancellara could be seen saying “no” to the Garmin-Cervélo car, his latin heritage ensuring hand gestures accompanied his words.
The advice was clear, they were told not to work. With hindsight this proved successful for Garmin-Cervélo but not for BMC Racing, with Quinziato cracking up front. But this moment will be forgotten in time. Although Hushovd’s “Mr Smash” reputation gets a dent.
No, whilst all this was going on we saw plenty of attacks from the lead group. They knew there was a chance that the trio might get across and were keen to stay out in the front. The French say le coureur prend une option, that the rider takes an option on the outcome of the race. By being up front and ahead of the team leaders, radio chatter and poker-playing the guys in the front group were left to race, they had the options. It was Danish rider Lars Bak who jumped, taking Maarten Tjallingi, Gregory Rast and Van Summeren. Then came the often strategic Carrefour de l’Arbre cobbled section and Van Summeren did the smashing. He pounded the cobbles and emerged solo. An invaluable helper, his rangy figure is often a sight on the front end of a race but this time it was a solo effort. Rising winds and even a puncture with 5km to go (he rode on) couldn’t stop him and he took the win of his life in Roubaix.
Van Summeren is one of those unheralded riders. On a good day he could place in the top-20 of a mountain stage in the Tour de France and he’s twice finished in the top-10 for Paris-Roubaix before. This isn’t just a water carrier, Van Summeren’s an all rounder and a dangerous guy to leave near the front of a long race. If the win was a surprise, it can certainly be rationalised. Like Goss and Nuyens before this season, the monuments have been won by outsiders but not strangers, riders who played to their strengths and won. Sometimes a win by a lesser rider can feel unsatisfying but this time I salute Vansummeren’s riding, the way he lead from the front whilst others played with their radios.
Spartacus rebellion crushed
A word about Cancellara. He is devastatingly powerful. At one point he was sprinting out of the saddle on the cobbles, normally a technical no-no but he just looked invincible at times. But this was no time trial and the fundamental law of road cycling, namely the importance of drafting, meant that he was neutralised. If he’d had a rider up front things might be different.
Boonen’s first Roubaix DNF
A prediction: if he can ride a bike after crashing today, Tom Boonen will win the Brabantse Pijl next week. The three time Roubaix winner abandoned Paris-Roubaix for the first time in his career. A jammed chain, a wait for a bike and then a later crash condemned him. The recent win in Gent-Wevelgem isn’t enough to satisfy him and his team. The Brabantse Pijl marks the last chance of the spring classics season, an epilogue to make amends.
Spare a thought for Andreas Schillinger of Team Netapp. The German rider finished 17 minutes down in 108th place as the last rider. He, along with all the other finishers, have finished the most brutal race of the year.