At last

I could write a long piece saying how great today’s race was, examining the form of the riders, the relative strength of each team and the impact of racing without radios. But that’s not the point.

Instead it was simply a fantastic race to watch. The 2011 Het Nieuwsblad was a 203km held in foul conditions and won by Sebastian Langeveld. He attacked with 50km to go, had Juan Antonio Flecha bridge across and then after over five hours of racing, it came down to this:

Het Nieuwsblad photo finish

In fact this race came after a winter of doping scandals, imploding teams, proxy wars over race radios and more negative stories. To see two riders go head to head, mano a mano, is a timely demonstration of just how good this sport can be.

It wasn’t just the lead due. I was pleased to see promising Frenchman Yoann Offredo, even if he needs to learn that the head is as important as the legs. He will. It was also impressive to see HTC-High Road’s top rider was neo-pro John Degenkolb, proof that he can be so much more than a sprinter.

I watched the race online and took part in a live chat with the Pavé blog guys. We’ll be doing the same for the coverage of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the “revenge race” on Sunday. If you want to take part, visit Pavé when the TV images are up and running or keep an eye on The Inner Ring twitter feed for details.

15 thoughts on “At last”

  1. Was a great race, the kind of race that I wish non cycling fans could watch and understand just how exciting it can be.

    Enjoyed the chat with the Pave guys as well, was nice to watch and chat about the race over a few virtual Duvels.

  2. There’s life in the sport yet. Great race, great start to the season and a great way to forget about all the off season distractions. I can’t wait til tomorrow!

  3. If you looked at any of Degenkolb’s results in the U23 ranks, you wouldn’t have to say that “he can be more than a sprinter”…plus I don’t know anybody that has said that at all.

  4. Yes, great race to watch.

    Though it bears some irony that a Rabobank rider took the win benefiting from the fact of an uncooperative and unorganised chase group to some extend caused by the radio ban after them being one of the loudest protest voices against the radio ban before the race.

    Still cleverly ridden by Langeveld, sneaked away in the right moment as it did not appear dangerous and the favourites were still eying each other and he played Flecha quite well.

    Let’s hope K-B-K will be as entertaining. See you tomorrow

  5. Slow motion sprints are hilarious.
    It basically came down to who had any warmth/food/energy left in their muscles.
    Obviously neither of them, but someone had to lose.
    Rabo’s 2011 is in full flight btw.

  6. @ grolby :
    i’d say Langeveld knew what he was doing. Flecha was chasing, time gap closing, he eased off.
    Flecha arrives & they get on with the job of staying away to the finish.

    Flecha jumps at 5km to go, expecting to go away & win solo.
    after all, he’s closed a minute + gap, on a tired rider, who’s wet and cold. Job done.
    Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Langeveld closed the gap easily, followed & said a few
    things to Flecha, then left him on the front to think about it.

    Flecha now has a problem.
    so now he has the choice : go again, or wait for the sprint.

    Langeveld is stronger than he thought, is he faster than me? shall i go again? only 3km to the finish? flat roads, rising finish line? …. so he rolls through the motions to stay away to the finish.

    Last Km they are crawling, Flecha wants Langeveld on the front, but its not working.
    Slowing right down, Flecha tries to prompt a jump by looking behind (checking the chasers – distraction, etc) he does this several times, it doesnt work.
    Langeveld stays put.

    400m Flecha slows, then jumps onto the kerb, almost stopping, to get on the wheel, but that doesnt work either.
    Langeveld is mentally strong & knows the score.
    Flecha’s antics in the sprint, would suggest that he was less confident in man to man finish.

    Langeveld jumps at 150m & Flecha is unable to get back before the line is crossed.
    Yep, I’d say Flecha got played…..

  7. CK: see where I mentioned Degenkolb. Often a rider can do it all in the amateurs finds a speciality in the pro ranks. For example Boonen almost won the U-23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege but nobody would say he’s a contender in the Ardennes today.

    To those debating the “play”, note that in the post-race TV interview Flecha said Langeveld made him change his line in the sprint… but said it was part of racing and in now way anything to complain about. It was a great finish and the Dutchman played it well. It’s great to be debating race tactics as opposed to politics and haematology.

  8. I think that’s reading too much into what was a typical two-up sprint at the end of a hard race. Flecha is not normally a good sprinter – in fact, just about anyone you could name is a faster finisher. But he lost to Langeveld by only 10 cm. No disrespect to Langeveld for a classy win, but there was no special tactical nous that he displayed, and no mistakes in the sprint by Flecha. He was simply not as strong at the end as Langeveld was. No one got played. Sometimes I think there’s a tendency to overanalyze these things.

  9. is there anywhere i can watch races that aren’t on eurosport in the uk? i had to make do with youtube afterwards to see the last kms of both races

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