Tour of Flanders: The Moment The Race Was Won

Ballan attack Flanders Ronde Vlaanderen

The first 210km of the race were dominated by a series of crashes, accidents and bizarre incidents. Riders fell, most notably Fabian Cancellara. It was not until the final 40km that the race came alive.

Then with 18km when Alessandro Ballan went clear on the Oude Kwaremont and – as the picture shows – Tom Boonen and Filippo Pozzato rode across to him. This was the moment the race was won.

First, those crashes. TV cameras lingered voyeuristically on Fabian Cancellara lying prone in the road with a cracked collarbone, a moment that ended his spring classics season and immediately forced riders and directeur sportifs to recalibrate race tactics. The same injury for Sebastian Langeveld after he decided to take a cycle path and collided with a spectator. But there were other odd moments, for example the Team Sky car drove into the back of the Liquigas vehicle. The first 200km of the race were not great viewing, enlivened by the “wacky races” aspect. After all the early breakaway was hauled back to 50 seconds at one point but once on the finishing circuits around Oudenaarde the gap doubled as the big contenders watched each other.

At one point a group of 11 riders was away and this looked like the winning move, with Boonen and Chavanel joined by Sep Vanmarcke and Peter Sagan amongst others. But Sky and Vacansoleil led the chase and it all came back together before the last time up the Oude Kwaremont.

The winning moment
Ballan attacked early on the Oude Kwaremont and then Boonen and Pozzato came across over the top. This time Pozzato wasn’t sitting on the wheels, he was the one going across whilst Boonen was tucked in behind. This was where the lead trio formed and credit to all three riders for their aggressive riding. Ballan perhaps had to go since he couldn’t cope with a sprint but Boonen in particular was bold in covering Pozzato.

Pozzato Ballan Boonen Vlaanderen

On to the Paterberg and Boonen looked awkward for a moment. As the trio cleared the Paterberg they had 20 seconds lead but on the final 15km they stretched this to over a minute, taking turns to work as a chase group behind couldn’t get going. Some riders can sprint but Ballan is one of those who cannot, his rangy physique doesn’t have the raw power. So it was inevitable that he would try an attack or two on the run in but these lacked bit and each time it was Tom Boonen who shut them down en patron as they say in French, like a boss. This gave Pozzato the perfect position as they entered the final 800 metres. Ballan led, then Boonen jumped and Pozzato could not come past.

Sprint Spurt Ronde Vlaanderen

Looking back I think Pozzato made the mistake of trying to pass on the left of Boonen. The wind was blowing from this direction and there would have been more shelter had the Italian gone to the right. But this is an observation rather than a criticism, details like this are hard after 255km. Besides, nobody can stop Tom Boonen this year. We should note he is supported by a very strong team too, having Chavanel, Terpstra and others provides great benefits.

The course?
The race was selective and provided a worthy winner. But is the course change an improvement? Dropping the Kapelmuur climb means losing something iconic and I did find the Kwaremont-Paterberg combo obviously repetitive, the course had a feel of the World Championships with laps and riders being dropped out the back. It is hard to judge the new course on the basis of one race, especially since we had bright sunshine and dry cobbles. We will know in a few years’ time if the change works… and if it is not good for the race then the commercially-sensitive organisers will find market forces direct them back to Geraardsbergen and The Muur.

Boonen now joins Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw and Fiorenzo Magni as a three time winner of the race. Sometimes we can read about race history and it seems a bit distant. The black and white photos, the unfamiliar names. But here today we saw Tom Boonen once again placing himself amongst the greatest ever classics riders of all time. Paris-Roubaix is next Sunday.

I’d also add that George Hincapie passed “Briek” Schotte’s record of 16 finishes. He finished 52nd today, the 17th time he has finished the Tour of Flanders.

55 thoughts on “Tour of Flanders: The Moment The Race Was Won”

  1. Spot on INRNG. The new course was just too predictable, and boring to look at. For my money the course also didn’t seem to have the same fervent atmosphere. The sight of empty barriers at the start of the finish straight was a bit depressing. Its unfortunate perhaps that last years edition was of such a fine vintage. Bravo to Pippo for taking the race on, he should be even stronger next week – maybe he can unhitch the new ‘shadow’ Tom and solo to the finish in a reverse of 2009.

  2. Watching Pippo ride across to Ballan all I could think about was Gilbert talking trash earlier in the week.
    Things change quickly and it is looking to be a very different remainder of the Classics season.
    We’ve seen some underdog action, the next generation starting to show itself and resurgent stars on form. Can it get any better?

  3. Great race but I almost gave up with the coverage on NBC. They kept cutting to commercials. Thanks be to Sporza. I may not understand a word but I can follow the race in full.

  4. Fantastic race coverage by Sporza, watched the whole thing, absolutely great. The Spring weather of recent years are making these look like summer classics!

  5. Bill, can we get Sporza coverage in the US? It’s not that I dislike Phil but the commentary doesn’t add much. As long as you know who’s riding where, the pictures provide the story.

  6. I was willing to give the new route a chance, but it just didn’t have it compared to what De Ronde used to have. I missed the bridge into Geraardsbergen, the chapel, the fans leaning outwards on ‘that’ corner on the Muur, and the right hander into the final straight.

    The lap format isn’t my cup of tea, and the lack of fans on the finishing straight was something of a depressing sight. Headwinds and no real chance for attacking riding on the run-in didn’t help either.

    The race wasn’t the best vintage, with everyone predictably waiting for the laps to come around before expending much effort in putting in attacks. I found the finish unbelievably tense, but only because I was willing Tommeke on.

  7. I will root for Pozzato at Roubaix so his insane clavicle recovery can be complete and they can write children’s books about him in Italy. Luckily for the organizers, the course change gained a huge coup with the fans after Boonen deservedly won for the Belgians…

  8. I’d wager Pozzato doubled his fan base today! For me it’s always far more about the riders than the course. The drama of the human aspect far outweighs the playing field.
    Boonen gets an attaboy and a hearty handshake. I am still far more impressed by his climbing speed in E3. That was just an awesome shot.

  9. I’ll agree the course seemed a bit contrived but that was watching via the ‘net vs being on one of those cobbled climbs seeing them go past multiple times. We’ll be there next year as one of the huge crowd, beer and frites and the whole deal! Might have a different opinion after that I think. Meanwhile we’ll be part of the crowd next weekend at Paris-Roubaix, watching them thunder by just the one time. Best wishes to Cancellara for a speedy recovery, though of course his spring season is now ruined.

  10. You may not like the commercials on NBC Sports, but they are making a diligent effort to televise cycling (live, even) even when its not the tour. Without advertisers there is no cycling on tv.

    And, frankly, without their history of love cycling coverage, I and many others would never have watched. I’m glad they’re on and I’ll watch them whenever I can.

  11. Until a couple of years ago, I did not follow pro cycling except for the Tour, and boy, I have been missing! Maybe I just don’t get it being sort of a neophyte, but how can anyone claim this years race was boring? I was literally at the edge of the seat by the end!
    Great going by Boonen, Pozzato, Balan, and a special mention for Farnese-Vini. Should all pro tour teams race like that!

    Cant wait for Paris-Roubaix, although shame about Cancellara, I hope he has a quick recovery.

  12. I will wonder whether Boonen winning will somewhat reduce the level or volume in criticism on the new course. This course has a feeling of the Australian Worlds course….and that is not what one wants from a race such as this.

  13. Though I enjoyed the last 18kms, a circuit-race-feel is not what this race has been. Like the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I think they should have left this truly Classic race alone. The infamous cobbled climbs, historical corners and continuity of tradition are what made this race so exciting. Tradition has its place in Flanders.

    I hope the riders and fans push for a return to the traditional course…but money talks, so I’m not holding my breath.

    Again, congrats to Tomeke and OPQ for putting three riders in the Top 10, and bravo to Pozzato and Ballan for rounding out the trio that worked so well those last 18kms. A lot of corks popping in Belgium and Italy for this edition!

  14. I watched on Eurosport and they commented that the fans watching live may have benefitted from the change of route. More chances to watch the race unfold.

    I watched the last 60km and for the the final 10k were pretty humdrum though if you supported any of the final three then it must have been tense. Sagan looked very strong and still only 22!!

  15. I feel a bit of sense of disappointment after Cancellara crashing out. I was really looking forward to that duel, and seeing how things panned out only increases the frustration that we didn’t get to see it. It’s also a shame we won’t get to see Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix next weekend.

    Fair play to Boonen though – it’s tough to be such a hot favourite on home turf and still keep your head and deliver the goods. It’s very hard to see past him at Paris-Roubaix next weekend, although he could be so heavily marked that it makes life very difficult for him (a la Cancellara last year).

    I was massively impressed by Peter Sagan today. In fact I think he was possibly the strongest rider, but he missed the crucial break. That he spent a long time out on his own trying to bridge the gap and then still managed to sprint for 5th was mightily impressive. He’s only likely to get stronger as he gets older, and hopefully he’ll learn and get smarter tactically too, and then he’s going to be quite a force to be reckoned with in the classics.

  16. I agree with Daniel. I didn’t mind that the course had changed that much before the race. Still right now I’ve got some mixed feelings about it. Somewhat disappointed with the race (but my expectations were probably too high) as it was boring for most of the time, and the favorites just waited and waited (nice weather and lack of wind also didn’t help)…. and the Oude Kwaremont and Patersberg are definitely not comparable to the iconic Muur of Geraardsbergen…

    Still let’s bear in mind that lots of the races on the ‘old parcours’ were also pretty boring, like the one won by Cancellara in 2010 and Boonen 2006, last years race was probably the most exciting one of the last 20 years … so probably not fair to compare this years race with the one of last year.

    Being used to the old one I really missed having reference points…. and I found the straight last long 10k a bit disappointing. For example I missed that bridge on the old track – with 3,4 K to go –

    Also pretty surreal to see a group of 45 riders sprint for the 4th spot! Never had expected that. And obviously the crash of Cancellara made the race more passive, but overall I’m not convinced. I makes sense to use the bigger city Oudenaarde as the arrivee for the race, but I kind of miss the charm of that small, ugly village named Meerbeke.

  17. It was an interesting race, but we should ask for more. The circuit makes operations a little too predictable. Bad idea if you want a chaotic race. And if you want an attrition battle, you need at least 40K more.
    Am I the only one thinking that Sky’s chase of the Boonen-Sagan-Flecha-Chavanel breakaway made little sense once EBH had shown weakness?
    Kudos to Boonen anyway. I don’t think anyone will help him be in the winning trio in Roubaix now. He’ll have to fight for a solo victory or else a larger sprint.

  18. Tom was super clinical today, OPQS was super clinical today, it is shame we couldn’t witness what NissanRadioShack with strong front presence could do to spoil their day. Great race though

  19. @Anonymous @Cat4Fodder
    The action has only been focused over the last hour or so (a la M-SR) this year with the course change. Hopefully there will be some kind of tweaking for the next few editions, though I can’t see the circuits being dropped so soon after this edition. The Ardennes Classics have gone the way of having all the action towards the very end of the race. Fleche is just a procession until the sprint up the Mur de Huy for example.

    I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as the Australian Worlds course..

  20. i woke up this morning at 6am EST a kid on christmas morning to watch the race and by the time it was over i was bored out of my mind.

    team bring back the muur.

  21. Bosko, how can you say the 2010 Ronde was boring? It contained one of the most awe-inspiring displays of panache and ability from the last ten years when Faboo rode away from Tom. Anyway, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.
    I was gutted when Cancellara crashed. It was like superman died. I guess the weight of the world finally caught up with him. He really needs a new team (or a team) to ride for him instead of a couple of mincey climbers who are only good for seconds and thirds in grand tours. Imagine if he had an Eisel or a Stannard – he would win everything!
    I am slightly biased as I have a man-crush on Faboo. But hey, when he crashed out the WorldTour became 50% less handsome you’d have to agree.

    Halfway through our (excellent, thanks to SBS/Sporza) live coverage it occurred to me I was actually watching the Ronde. I love watching cycle races, and this was no exception, but it did lack the feeling of the Ronde. Perhaps this is just due to the course being new, who knows. We’ll have to wait and see. A great reason to stay up late on a school night and have some party pies and beer at the very least.

    As far as weather is concerned, down under we have had the world’s worth of rain in the last 12 months. I think we had three days in a row of sun over ‘summer’. Balls. Being fairly new to cycling history I am yet to experience a wet Ronde/Roubaix but for the riders’ sake I’m glad.

  22. I foolishly stayed awake all night because at 3am it got to the point where I wasn’t confident in waking up in time for the race.

    Don’t really regret it even thought I’m still shattered. Love De Ronde.

  23. I think the riders/teams were cautious over the earlier portions of the race due to not knowing the best way to attack the final 3 circuits. Perhaps next year we’ll see more adventurous tactics after this year’s feeling out of the course. In the end, the riders determine the race as much as (if not more than) the course.

  24. that entire race was a wet firecracker. the new circuit produced negative racing, the peloton were just plodding along up the climbs on the first two circuits, seemingly afraid to try anything.

    can you tell i am not a fan?

    all that being said, the strongest man still won. the race organisers will no doubt use this crutch to defend their route choice. and a monument will suffer for it, as will true race fans at the bastardisation of this once great race. it’s jsdut unrecognizable.

  25. I posted this on Cyclingtips as well, but thought I may try and get an answer here as well.

    Did anyone else notice the wheel change that Pozzato got from a team mate at the beginning of the Kwaremont – Paterburg laps? Neither wheel had a flat, they were simply exchanged and then both riders rode on.

    Was this a tactical change to a more suitable cluster for the Kwaremont – Paterburg?

  26. Does anyone believe that Fabian will cut ties with the dark side of the force and return to the jedi (aka: Bjarne). “You were supposed to destroy the peloton, not pull it to the line”.

    I am under the strong belief that without Fabian crashing, he would still not have won. He just seems to be stuck in 2010 tactically and no director on his team seems to be able to read the race and try different things like Bjarne could.

  27. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have slotted the Muur into the present course. Admittedly it would be much earlier in the course than usual but the race went through Brakel which is about 5 km away. It is as though they deliberately snubbed it. Would have saved the organisers some of the criticism they’ve been getting.

  28. Jii: I noticed Pozzato’s wheel change, too…my best guess would also be for a “more suitable cluster,” or a different wheelset better-suited to the race and the dry/hard conditions and fast pace.

    rhys: I agree that Spartacus seems ill-fitted on the merged RS-N-T team…it did feel like “Superman died” when he crashed…changes the whole rest of Spring in so many ways, and will not give Boonen, Hushovd and other Paris-Roubaix favorites the maximum competition.

    Cancellara is one classy, ultra-talented cyclist — I would love to see him ride with Liquigas-Cannondale and become a mentor to Peter Sagan (I’ve read that Sagan needs a mentor, not sure if Basso is not fulfilling this role or not?) and ride with Vincenzo Nibali and the rest of this talented squad.

    Radioshack is having a bit of a tough Spring. I’m sure Johan isn’t sitting where he wants to be in the “races won” category. It’s a strange meshing of cyclists that I don’t wonder if the personalities aren’t all jiving?

  29. Two things to consider given today’s result:

    1. With Cancellara out the odds of Boonen getting the Flanders-Roubaix double once again increased markedly. Now that Boonen is tied with the most Flanders victories, how many riders in history have done the double more than once?

    2. Have any accurate numbers been published for spectators and TV viewership? The course favors the former, and as we can see from the comments, hurts the latter (though I think the argument that teams were being cautious in the unknown this year makes a lot of sense). Comparing the spectator and viewership numbers of the new course with the old one will make the decision for how the race is run, though another year or two on the world champs-esque course will be required for a better sample.

  30. Something tells me that if the original course had had the three circuits at the end, and that the organisers had changed it this year to include the Kapelmuur, there’d be a whole lot of people on the internet complaining about the change .

    And I seem to remember finding the Worlds in Geelong very exciting, but I clearly don’t think like everybody else.

  31. @Tom: I reckon Fabian would have won had he not crashed. More certain in my mind is that Boonen would probably not have won. Of course there would have been lots of variables that could and probably would have played out differently but just remember back to when Boonen struggled when Pozzato put the hurt on near the top of the Paterberg. As INRNG said he “looked awkward for a moment” – he was hanging on and lost a few metres. Now imagine that was Cancellara and not Pozzato giving it a dig there. Pure speculation but that 3 metres would have likely been quite a bit more. The issue would then be could Cancellara have hung on (perhaps on his own, perhaps with one or both of Ballan and Pozzato who were going better up there) to the finish in the headwind. Who knows, but Boonen would have had to drop back and wait for his teammates to have any chance of pulling him (or them) back. The OPQS guys looked spent by then – game over. Ballan would have folded like a house of cards towards the end, Pozzato dunno. Anyway, a great shame.

    On the route I agree – losing the Muur didn’t feel right. If it had still been there, I think Boonen might not have won (see above – Pozzato seemed the stronger climber) so the Belgians should be relieved it wasn’t.

    Roll on next week: who challenges OPQS?

  32. On the subject of Pozzato’s wheels, here is a close up from the last 20km, they look like box-section alloy rims. Maybe he wanted deep section rims for the early part of the race to save energy and then the traditional rims to cope with the cobbles?
    Pozzato wheels

  33. Without the Muur, where was Ronde Boy?
    Was he still in his same spot shouting at cars going past?

    Any pics from this year INRG? The yearly Ronde Boy pic is usually my desktop until July.

  34. Another race, another round of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” about Cancellara. Does anyone have information how the hell he fell off on a smoothly paved section of the course? Did one of his teammates crash into him like at the other race where the poor mechanic ended up with a broken nose? Are we going to hear all the same ifs and buts about Paris-Roubaix now that Fabian will not be racing? Bundle-maybe the Sky DS banged his head in the car crash and lost the plot? Their tactics didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. Hard to believe Pippo would plan in advance a wheel swap with another Farnese rider rather than just taking a bike…but it’s tough to believe they would even plan to do that – I say choose what you want to use in advance and unless it breaks, ride the damn thing. There was a time back-in-the-day you had to prove to the officials there was some mechanical failure to justify swapping bikes, which of course led to deliberate sabotage of the original bike after-the-fact, so there’s probably no fair way to prevent this even if they wanted to do so. Bring on the Hell of the North, I can’t wait!

  35. american viewers have a good thing going with nbc sports coverage of international bike racing, but phil liggett and paul sherwen need to be put out to pasture. sure, they’ve been around “the sport of professional cycling” for decades, but their commentary is moronic, and that is almost a compliment. nbc would be wise to reduce liggett and sherwen’s role in race coverage and bring in announcers capable of interjecting drama and facts into the race coverage, not speculation and historical tidbits of no use to the viewer.
    for my money, the “new” flanders course seemed mundane, where were the cobbles? too urban, not enough belgium countryside. most of the time, i thought i was watching a criterium. can’t wait until paris-roubaix… where the cobbles remain supreme.

  36. Watching the end of the race…….wondering why Pippo did not repeatedly counterattack as a one two punch with his paesan. You don’t think Pozzato cut a deal with Tommy Boy Boonen do you?? Naw not in Procycling……..

  37. @Skinny: Are you serious with that comment? Pozzato basically did cut a deal- but with Ballan, not Boonen. The riders themselves seemed to admit as much. He let Ballan attack and sat on Boonen’s wheel without helping chase- must have been a pretty crappy “deal” he cut with Boonen to repeatedly let someone attack and do nothing. In any case, such a deal would make no sense. He could have fairly easily finished second and maybe won with no “deal” and not had a chance at the win with one.

    I assume Pozzato did not attack because there was a headwind, making a solo effort like that harder. Also, he probably doubted that tactic would work anyway given that it was on a flat- and flat+wind means you are not going to get away from Boonen easily. Maybe that was an error in judgment, but if he had won the sprint (not out of the question, I think, but not that likely either…in any case, he had a much better shot at the sprint than Ballan) we’d be talking instead about his masterful judgment and patience.

    Pro cycling isn’t the cleanest sport there is (what would be is a good question, though) and making deals is part of the sport in some ways, but your insinuation absurd.

    • Veloday, they may have to. The main sponsor’s coacrntt is ending at the end of this year. Lefevere already sold a big chunk (80%) of the team management company to Zdenek Bakalaa. With his recent results, Chavanel will want a bigger salary and/or more support for himself. My guess is either Lotto will sponsor them, or they will merge with OmegaPharma. Lotto publicly stated that they want a more Belgium-oriented team even if the current OmegaPharma-Lotto is almost all Belgian. So if this reason were true, they aren’t likely to combine forces with QSI at its current incarnation. Or, they’ll have to let Chavanel go. Ah, the Great Belgian Musical Chairs.

  38. Skinny.

    James has it right and I’m not siding with him because of his awesome name.

    There is no tactical logic to your theory.

    This is the breakdown.
    Ballan can’t sprint. He knows this.
    That is why he initiated the move.
    He is joined by the two strongest riders who can sprint.
    His only choice is to go early once the podium is assured.
    Two Italians and THE Belgian.
    Pippo knows Ballan has to go early.
    Pippo says go I won’t chase forcing Boonen to chase.
    This benefits Ballan and Pippo.
    Ballan is riding for third he knows this ultimately so take the chance and worst case I help Pippo and Italia silence Flanders. Tifosi is happy and BMC will take anything they can get right now so third is fantastic.
    Boonen is back on form so he’s not buying anything. Pippo has only been a top ten guy so far this season so there would be no reason in Boonen’s mind to need any monetary assurance of the victory.
    Plus he’s riding the home court advantage.
    Pippo is resurrecting his career so settling isn’t an option. The guy went against doctors orders to repair his collarbone and ride the Classics. He’s all in this season and it shows.

    Last thought.
    All three riders are let’s say living quite comfortably.

    I’m down with conspiracies, collusion, corruption and all that fun stuff. There is more of that up in the Saxo license post. It’s UCI based though.

  39. Pretty well said there JimW. As I watched the finale with my wife (the one who has a sprint) we had pretty much the same discussion and in the end we decided this was Boonen’s race to lose. The Italians took their respective best shots at Tommeke and simple came up short on the day. They get another chance on Sunday.

  40. I’ll also just pipe in on the anti-conspiracy theory here. That Pozzato thought he’d have a chance in a sprint against a Boonen who’s had to chase down attacks is not unreasonable. He has won a bunch sprint in the 2007 Tour ahead of Freire, and if you look at the 2010 Worlds finish where he came 4th, he’s actually moving faster than anybody else by the finish, but started too far back. 2005 HEW was also a flat out bunch sprint where he prevailed.

  41. Pozzato is a good sprinter and likely figured he had a better chance at a tired Boonen than an earlier attack. He did what the underdog often does in a sprint- let the other guy lead it out and try to come by in the last few meters.

    Also, Pozzato beat Boonen in a straight up sprint in the 2009 E3 Prijs Vlaanderen.

  42. It was Gatto and (I think) De Negri who swapped rear wheels after the Koppenberg descent when they hit the main road again with around 62k to go. Ascani was also waiting, wheeling about in the road until they’d changed wheels.

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