Vansummeren’s turn

Vansummeren on the way to winning

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.

Cancellara gesticulates

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.

An all-rounder
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.

Last word
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.

24 thoughts on “Vansummeren’s turn”

  1. This race was yet another example of race radios allowing for tactical shenanigans and less attacking…. & please not let’s not trot out the safety argument!

  2. Did we see the same race? I watched the final 100 kms via CyclingTV. First, Paris-Roubaix is always telegenic, with either mud or dust and plenty of crashing. The shots of the skilled riders hopping the curbs or riding seemingly on a cloud while their bike rattles beneath them are legendary. BUT, I thought this edition more a race of trying not to lose rather than trying to win. Mostly negative racing in other words. Cancellara was clearly strong, but pretty much a one-trick-pony, maybe more so without the advice of the Saxo Bank bosses. He doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of racecraft, being stronger than the others and riding them off his wheel is pretty much his only setting. If that’s all we need, race “winners” could be determined by setting up some power meters in Paris and skipping the actual race to Roubaix. Hushovd pretty much sat there behind Fabian, but with a teammate up the road this can be excused. Boonen simply had bad luck, I doubt his problems were due to the use of odd-ball, tricky equipment designed to gain an advantage. So a guy sent up the road to draw the starch out of the other teams ends up winning solo, while Cancellara makes a suicide run at the end to console everyone that he was truly the strongest. But not the smartest, nor the guy with the best team or tactics. JV gets redemption even if Hushovd called all the shots..and kudos to Vansummeren, but this will not go down as an epic Paris-Roubaix in my book by any means, even if my view might be affected by watching the classic “Sunday in Hell” last night in anticipation of a great edition of the “Hell of the North”. Bring on the next race!

  3. Oliver: certainly the “what do we do?” moment looked bad. But it was a question of knowing how strong Vansummeren was, the radio might have helped.

    Larry T: yes it was negative but only amongst a few guys queuing on Cancellara’s wheel. Whilst they radioed for instructions, Vansummeren rode away. No Hollywood scenario but a powerful ride, especially at 42km/h.

  4. Was it me, or did it seem like that were a ridiculous amount of silly crashes today?

    And I believe with Saxo and Riis, Cancellara would not lose Monuments with form like this. Think Bjarne is smiling a bit behind his confident smirk?

  5. An awesome race today and it’s nice to see a guy like Van Summeren win, Garmin played their cards to perfection and the weakness of the Leopard Cancellara-Only team really showed. You can say Hushovd not riding was negative racing but it worked and I think it’s starting to drain Cancellara, he’s genuinely irritated now that people won’t just let him ride away. That’s gonna mess with his head eventually. Besides you have to love a winner who rides on a flat tire for 5k then proposes to his girlfriend with the biggest rock in history.

  6. I for one was happy to see Van Summern win. I have the 2008 pairs-roubaix on DVD which I watch from time to time while riding my trainer during the winter months. Van Summern absolutely opens the race up a couple of time trying to set up Leif Hoste for the win. Watching the race I can’t help but wonder if Leif Hoste should have been riding for Van Summern that year (despite Van Summern’s tremendous efforts for Leif Hoste he still placed 8th that year, only 2 places behind Hoste). A talented rider who finally got his due.
    Certainly watching Cancellara, Ballan, and Thor all sit up and bicker in the middle of the chase wasn’t that inspiring, but we ended up with a worthy winner and an exciting race non the less.

  7. great perspective on another great race day..we have been luck this year to get 2 fab races in a row…van the man is a worthy champion…all of us wish we could ride a bike like him…

    great blog

  8. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to pro-cycling, but what happened today only reinforced – in my eyes – that cycling is a team sport. This was a win for Garmin-Cervélo as much as it was a win for Johan Vansummeren.

    Leopard Trek don’t seem to have the ammunition for these classics and perhaps they’ve been a bit naïve to think that Cancellara could continue to repeat his one man shows, without realising that he’d simply be marked out of races.

  9. Cancellara mighte be a one trick pony, but no one does the trick better than him. Still an impressive spring campaign by him, so hats off.

    I’m really happy for Van Summeren, always great to see a “helper” excel. Quite surprising it doesn’t happen more often in Paris-Roubaix that is supposed to be race heavily influenced by luck and coincidence.

  10. Thanks for a great write-up. Seems like the big bike rags are content to call Van Summeren ‘just a domestique’, or credit the long shot breakaway that stuck. The dude is amazing. If a labratory designed the ideal cyclist to be competitive in every race in the world, you get him. Just a straight up bike racer.

    The fact that he is such a loyal teammate is either a testament to his patience, or a severe lack of ambition. But he certainly rode his way into a bigger house today. House Hunters International: MONACO Edition!

    As for Cancy, first his old team beats him, then his old bike. Ouch.

  11. Just a Devil’s Advocate thought: did the radios actually HELP the drama and give us a more unexpected finale with Ballan/Thor spending more time asking for advice than just racing? Did they have any effect at all? No flamethrowing here, but I’m of the mind that we should forget the radio debate and revel in the amazing season we’ve seen so far…

    And if I was going to be a one-trick pony, I’ll take Fabu’s trick. That man raced a classy race today.

  12. Terrific race! Non-stop action from start to finish. Stage races are like a season-long TV drama. Day races are more intense and focused. You don’t have to stay with them for weeks to appreciated the competition. Versus really tried to push Hurshovd and Boonen, but Cancellara made for excitement! Even in second place, this guy is the one to watch!

    It’s not so much who wins what, but how they do it… Van Summeren rode the best of all. Cancellara should be pissed. The world champ was not racing him, just being an anchor. Not very becoming. Hooray for Pro bike racing Garmin-Cervelo notches a huge win, putting them on par with the others. This is going to be a great year!

  13. One thought just occurred to me- didn’t Garmin hire van Petegem as consultant to fill the gap after they fired Matt White? It would pretty amazing to think that PvP’s advice, which I’m sure was a big part of JvS’s win today, could have come out of that debacle.

  14. I can’t believe anyone would call Fabian a pony!

    On a more serious note, your “last word” is what makes this blog so special. Thanks!

  15. Drirk Demol, Servais Knaven, Johan Vansummeren.

    JV explains the rationale for his exchange with Fab on Cyclingnews, I think he has some points that are missing here: he has two guys up front and Vanmaerke 20 seconds behind, he is not going to have his captain tow the big favorite up to the front. Rather, he promises Fab to have Vanmaerke come up and do some work, and have Gabriel Rasch drop down from the front group. Once JvS breakes away, there is no way Garmin-Cervelo is going to work.

    That jump inside the last 3 km show why you have to race to beat Cancellara if you want to win. The guy is podium in SanRemo, Flanders and Roubaix and I dare say he didn’t get much help from his team (apart from some arm slings from the team car). He is without a doubt the strongest rider in cycling. He’s been beat by outsiders, yes, but he’s also been beaten because everybody races against him and he’s left to fend for himself.

    Roubaix is the race for me, however the two last years have been let downs. SanRemo was race of the season so far.

  16. To Larry T.
    Calling Cancellara a one trick pony is absurd. He is basically alone on the front with two riders with teammates in the break, he is doing all the work and he attempts to ride way from the rest and you call that a one trick?. In case you been sleeping the last century, when left alone that is the ONLY way to get rid of the dead weight of Ballan and the Hushovd. The race would have been much different if Boonen and Chavenel had decent days then they and Cancellara would have bridged the gap and left the break for dead.

  17. For all his gesticulating, Cancellara couldn’t have been surprised by the tactics against him. The surprise, and disappointment to me, was riders of the experience of Ballan & Hushovd reaching for their radios, they should be big enough to take decisions on the road & to justify those decisions. The only reason they could justify for radio use is that they wanted to find out how the riders up the road were feeling.

    I imagine Leopard will be recruiting classics riders at the end of the season.

    Sky need to re-think their approach & their team for next years classics. Thomas & Stannard have shown they are able & adventurous enough to win classics. Flecha, for all he seems to be a nice guy, increasingly looks like a wheel-sucker. However Thomas doesn’t seem to believe in his ability, next year he needs to be designated the leader & have the support that he gave this year.

  18. The race was boring only if you paid attention to the 3 “favorites” that the big cycling media told you to pay attention to. If you watched the sharp end of the race — where the action was occurring — it was a thrilling and breath-taking day. Chapeau, Van Summeren.

  19. Quinziato didn’t crack, he got cracked when he rode into a moto parked in the road in Carrefour de l’Arbre. That’s gotta hurt.

    Nobody has yet explained why Thor or Ballan should have felt obligated to come through and tow Cancellara up to the front group so he could attack them there. Lots of talk about Ballan/Hushovd not being prepared to lose. To me it looked like Cancellara wasn’t prepared to risk losing if they got to the front group and that’s why he sat up.

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