Five things I saw in Flanders

Flanders podium

What a race!

Prior to the Tour of Flanders I wrote above five things to look for, in particular Gilbert seemed to run out of luck, puncturing at a bad time and team-wise, BMC were collectively strong but it was Quick Step’s Chavanel-Boonen tandem that seemed the strongest, although that failed to deliver what they wanted. Plus Stijn Devolder once again stood out for his “interesting” positioning, once minute off the back, the next minute barging off the front.

Now after the race, a few things to reflect on after the race…

  • It was Cancellara vs. The Race for an hour. A solo effort with Chavanel glued to his wheel got a minute’s lead but in the end the open roads on the way to Geraardsbergen allowed a chase to take place, especially since groups behind reformed into one larger bunch and a chase was led BMC. If anything, Cancellara believed in himself too much, trying to repeat the long range attack. But he still had the force to make the late move that decided the winner.
  • Congratulations to Nick Nuyens. Always near to a result, his lack of big wins meant he was falling off the radar. He won the U-23 Ronde as an amateur and was second in the race proper in 2008. He showed plenty of power in the final and allied this skilful tactics, exploiting the moves. He only put his nose in the wind twice, one in a short move after the Bosberg and then another time when he came off Cancellara’s wheel to take the win.
  • You can’t read too much into one race but Garmin-Cervélo need to upload a new roadmap onto their sat-nav devices. All the talk of superteam isn’t quite working. Roger Hammond was visible in the break and Tyler Farrar swept up the bunch sprint but it was an off day for Hushovd and Haussler. I suppose Ryder Hesjedal is an option for the Amstel and Liège–Bastogne–Liège but Paris-Roubaix is a last chance for the team to shine.
  • A mixed day for Quick Step. Sylvain Chavanel was very strong but kept on a close leash thanks to team tactics. But I don’t think they could have done much more, Chavanel could not have ridden many off his wheel and he’s not got a sprint you would bank on, especially given Tom Boonen seems in good shape.
  • By contrast Bjarne Riis wins again. The Dane can never be ignored and he will have loved getting one over Cancellara, the man who broke his contract to leave for Leopard-Trek. The in-car video used by the TV broadcaster showed the eruption of joy when Nuyens won.

Overall the racing so far this season has been exceptional with suspense lasting right until the finish line, the scenarios change, scripts get ripped up and it’s been fascinating stuff. This Sunday sees Paris-Roubaix, long may the good racing continue…

21 thoughts on “Five things I saw in Flanders”

  1. forgive me for my lack of knowledge of cycling tactics and ethics, but it seemed to me that it was a bit shady of nuyens and chavanel to just it on cancellara’s wheel the entire time and then sprint for the win. seems that if the two of them thought they had a chance to win, they should have taken their turns pulling in order to make sure it was just the three of them for the sprint. luckily cancellara felt he had the legs to do one last pull at the end, if it weren’t for him, chavanel and nuyens wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to sprint for the win…

  2. Slightly disappointed that Quickstep didn’t let Chavanel to do at least some of the work with Cancellara. Felt they made a bit of a mistake putting all their eggs in the Boonen basket. But overall a great race and really can’t see anyone beating Cancellara next weekend especially if he learns from the mistake of going to early yesterday

  3. That’s the beauty of bike racing. Cancellara tried his long break tactic again and wheel sucking worked this time. It’s all part of the sport. Is it fair? Absolutely.

  4. sma: I would have said that it was tactically sound, as Fabbo was never going to win the bunch sprint after his time off the front, so he had to maintain the break to the first chase group to have a chance at doing well. Because of this, Chavanel and Nuyens could sit in behind him and take a burn at the finish, in which case Chavanel was covered because his team captain was in that chase group and he could be leadout. Nuyens was the freshest, having not taken a long solo turn and won accordingly.

  5. It would have been interesting to see if the result would have been any different had Cancellara not cramped on the Muur. Could he have won? Maybe, maybe not.

    Not sure about Quick Step’s tactics. I also wonder whether Boonen’s attack 40km out ultimately cost Chavanel the race. It seemed poor form to launch a counter-attack with a teammate out in front, and if Chavanel had been allowed to ride with Cancellara, maybe the pair would have stayed clear.

    I don’t understand what Garmin-Cervelo were up to. They told their riders to conserve energy and wait for the sprint, but by being so reactive they left the race open for Gilbert et al to launch attacks. Why concede control of the race so easily when they had an opportunity to be more hands-on in dictating the closing kilometres?

    Anyhow, congrats to Nuyens. He has had a tough few years, and he rode a smart race.

  6. sma: it’s poker playing. Chavanel wanted a lift to the line and could say Boonen was behind, Nuyens knew he could just hitch a ride.

    Henry: Boonen runs the team to a large extent. He holds sway over a lot of decisions, including who gets picked to race with him. It’s really 100% Boonen so Chavanel didn’t have too much room, plus he is not a fast finisher even if “sprinting” at the end of race isn’t about pure sprint technique.

    Operarunner: quite. Sometimes the strongest rider loses and that’s what makes bike racing different, it is not brute force, there’s all the tactics.

    Klips: yes. Nuyens rode clever.

    Tim: I suspect Paris-Roubaix will be a kind of revenge match with several, from Cancellara to Garmin-Cervélo out to prove something.

  7. I really think Boonen lost the race for Quickstep, first with the ill advised/aborted attack at 40k and then showing a complete lack of focus at the end by letting Fabu/Chav/Tricky Nicky get that gap and then nearly reeling them back in at 500m. He absolutely had the form to take a sprint, but his focus was lacking.

    In the end I thought it was a stupendous race, and you’ve got to hand it to Nuyens for being the the right place at the right time. I just wish Chavanel could’ve raced his own race as he did last year in the Tour. Tons of courage all around, and we’re definitely in for a throwdown at Roubaix! Don’t sleep on Thor, especially if the weather’s bad!

  8. I thought it was a great race. Boonen’s attack was very surprising and didn’t seem to be the smartest move. At least from the Versus coverage in the U.S. it appeared that after the Boonen attack Cancellara opened his initial gap through some nice cornering which gaped everyone behind him. Boonen was fighting to close back up the gap and then ran into traffic on the climb, causing him to give up or realize he wasn’t going to catch Cancellara. Had Boonen been able to stay with Cancellara, we may have seen a repeat of last year, but with them picking up Chavanel. That would have been interesting.

    Anyway fantastic race. I was really rooting for Chavanel in the end. He rode a great race.

  9. Nuyens and Riis should be writing thank you notes to BMC. If not for their efforts, it would have just been a duel between Chavanel and Cancellara. Just like last year, there was no organization in the chase-just looking and attacking. BMC stepped up, and changed the race. Sure, they didn’t win, but they got the next best thing-respect.

  10. I thought that QS used great tactics. Boonen’s attack with Chavanel up the road made Cancellara go way to early. They played it perfect till Boonen missed Cancellara’s last attack. If he went with that move the race was his for sure. Boonen will win this weekend.

  11. Boonen winning? It’s quite possible, especially if it comes down to a sprint amongst the favourites. But I’m not sure if he’s quite on top form and don’t forget you need a lot of luck just to get to Roubaix.

  12. I also have a sneaking suspicion Boonen will win this weekend. Another 500m and I think he’d have won yesterday.

    Five things I saw in Flanders…

    1. Juan Antonio Flecha having a cofffee in a Kortrijk hotel on Saturday afternoon.

    2. Bjarne Riis at the next table in a restaurant on Saturday night. I could’ve sworn he told one of his comrades to put 100 euros on Nick Nuyens for the Ronde but we were inspecting our beef too closely to take that much notice…

    3. The biggest “car park” ever on the main road near Kwaremont. Nuts.

    4. Ian Stannard going for a walk in Kortrijk town square at 10pm on Sunday night. Weren’t you tired, lad?

    5. Geraint Thomas. He’ll win the Ronde (or Roubaix) one day.

    Actually, I have a no.6… why oh why do they make the Spanish ride the northern classics?!

  13. Hincapie’s 6th place was pretty shocking, maybe this will finally be his year at Roubaix.

    Chavanel proved to be a real team player, the guy has been a major player in all of the races leading up to the Tour of Flanders and is in the race defining attack in Flanders and does no work so Boonen may have a shot. I can see the logic in holding out for Boonen, but Chavanel appeared to the be the only rider in the whole peloton who could hold Cancellara’s wheel (Boonen already showed he couldn’t hold it). Why not reward Chavanel with a green light to help Cancellara in the break and have a potential shot at winning, even if it is small? Where was the rest of the Quickstep team, had Steegmans or Van Impe been around to help Boonen chase it would of been a totally different race….possibly.

  14. Steven Drew: great observations, thanks. I’m a growing fan of Thomas, I really like his style on the bike, the smooth pedalling and the low position. He’s still got lots to learn but knows where he is going too.

    Miller: a tough call for Chavanel. Let’s imagine he’d signed for Cofidis or Europcar instead of renewing with QS. I’m not sure he’d have had the same race, in other words he got some benefit from being able to say “I’m with Boonen” and play the tactics card. But on the other hand, yes he might have been free to ride with Cancellara.

  15. Just watched the last 5 km again, when Cancellara attacked the final time Boonen was in the very back and never even had a chance.

  16. I’ve heard several comments about the spanish riders. I tend to agree with the ‘bleeding carrot’ generalization, but in all fairness, isn’t JAFlecha an Argentinian born Spanish rider? I really enjoy watching him ride and he seems to have excellent bike handling skills. This is my first year ever watching the classics and boy have I been missing out! This is the kind of bike racing that makes one a fan.

  17. Dave – I apologise for the generalisation. I think Flecha is utterly brilliant. But some of the Euskatel riders just looked as if they’d rather be anywhere else in the world. Skinny climbers bouncing along the cobbles is quite amusing the first time you see it but when you catch up and see them take a deep breathe ahead of the Muur after 250 km then you think there should be a way to get a “pass out” if that’s what they want.

  18. I actually can’t stand that Euskatel must ride Flanders and Roubaix. There are at least ten better teams in the low countries that could field a squad with better intentions. Their best bet at Roubaix every year is just getting one guy in the early break to ensure some tv time. Then it’s back to Basquetland to prepare for the Ardennes, where they can hope for a Sanchez coup.

  19. Can someone explain why Cancellera’s team wasn’t more helpful (e.g., missed water, teammates lagging behind, big guns in another country, etc.)?

  20. Scott-
    That’s a good question. I did see one of his teammates (sorry no name) absolutely killing it on the front early on and bringing back a break, until he, the motorcycles, and a few guys right behind him missed a turn.

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