Fabian Cancellara shows the opposition who’s boss for the second year in a row. Heavily tipped to go to a Belgian rider this year, Cancellara showed he was the man in form on a day of attrition. He led the decisive move and was easily the strongest in the power sprint on a day when the more-fancied Belgian riders faltered.
The Cobbled Classics Start Here
We’ve had Milan-San Remo, we’ve had Paris-Nice, we’ve had K-B-K and we’ve even had the rehearsal of the Omloop but the real 2014 Classics started today: this is the race that every Belgian fan had been waiting for and that every Belgian rider wants to win and anything less than a Belgian victor would not satisfy the most vocal fans in the sport.
The race rolled out of Brugge in mild temperatures with most riders in short sleeves and only a light drizzle to contend with. This soon dried away leaving only cloudy skies. With 260 km ahead the top favorites stayed together and let the others make the initial running. After a couple of skirmishes off the front, including one by Britain’s very talented TT specialist Alex Dowsett, the first serious break got going by the 50km point and included 10 riders who soon created a sizeable gap. The two biggest names contained in this first break were Taylor Phinney (BMC) and Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge); Katusha also had a man in the shape of Aliaksandr Kuchynski, a rider who with a second place finish in Wevelgem in his palmarés was a handy rider for the Russian team.
There were a couple of crashes early on with the biggest name crashing out being Vansummeren for Garmin. It’s reported that it was a woman crossing the road that took out the American but it was certainly a blow for the US team.
Bergs and Cobbles and Crashes
The break had built a lead of 6 minutes as the race came to the first of the 17 climbs. The race stayed together over the Oude Kwaremont but the main contenders were holding position near the front. Sky had their former TDF winner Wiggins drafted in at the last moment to replace the injured Stannard and the smart money said that he was there to ride for Geraint Thomas who has been showing great form this year.
Over the Kwaremont, Kortekeer and Eikenberg and riders were already hanging off the back. There were some mechanicals, wheel changes and crashes but the biggest upset was a big group coming down with 111km to go. Caught up in this off was Devolder and with the Omega team pushing the advantage the Trek rider had his work cut out to get back. Less than five minutes later and another Trek rider hit the ground on the descent as he hugged the rain gutter and it bit back. This time it was Popovych and it proved final, as he didn’t look to be getting back on the bike anytime soon.
One of the dark horses for the victory, Devolder would end up spending a lot of time off the back chasing
Devolder was chasing with 100 km to go and was about 150 meters behind but eventually it all came back together as up ahead the break was now on the Leberg. They were holding the gap at 4 minutes but the action in the peloton over the first few climbs showed that this gap wouldn’t be enough.
Less Than 100
With less than 100 km to the finish the main group was also down to less than 100 with 99 riders and the strongest teams were still showing at the front. Omega appeared in total control and Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who had been showing his nose on the climbs, drifted towards the back for a comfort stop. Boasson Hagen and Luke Rowe came towards the front to maintain Sky’s presence at the head of affairs.
The riders were taking advantage of the lull between the opening salvos to take on water and food but as the break came onto the newly-barriered Valkenberg with a gap just over 3 minutes, riders such as Sagan (Cannondale) and Cancellara were being brought back to the head of affairs. Trek began to push the pace and the gap was now dropping at a steady rate.
The lead group was also now showing the strain of staying out in front and was down to six riders with 80 km left to race. They were Taylor Phinney (BMC), Romain Zingle (Cofodis), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Stig Broeckx (Lotto Bellisol), Aliaksandr Kucynski (Katusha) with James Van Lanschoot (Wanty-Group Gobert) struggling to stay in contact. Over the Kaperij and with 70 km to go Omega began to push again and although the main contenders were all looking comfortable it was producing the long strung-out line behind the bunch. Any riders that had been thinking about calling it a day had now passed the second feed zone and their last chance of an easy pick up by team personnel had gone. It was on to the Kanarieberg at 1 km in length and average gradient of 7.7% and the gap was down to 2:20.
Three riders now clipped off the front of the bunch and three riders that could have caused problems for the favorites. Trentin was there for Omega, Eisel was covering for Sky and Quinziato was there for BMC. With Phinney up the road this looked like a serious tactical move for BMC. At the back another crash saw some riders in the ditch apparently having hit a pole. Worst off looked to be the Russian champion Vladimir Isaichev who didn’t appear to want to get back up and on his bike.
With the trio ahead of the bunch Cannondale was now forced to put some effort in, not being represented in either the break or the chasers. Narrow roads, tiredness and changes of pace were causing numerous small crashes at the back of the main group. The break was now heading towards the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and after that there would be no respite as the bergs would come thick and fast with no time to recover between each one.
Oude Kwaremont for the Second but Not the Last Time
Trek was now chasing alongside Cannondale as the three riders in the Trentin group had pushed their advantage to over a minute which meant that Phinney had a potential teammate now some 20 seconds behind. The main bunch was getting nervous as Tinkoff and Giant Shimano also came to the front to push for a good starting position on the climb.
Onto the ascent and Sky and BMC spread across the front in an attempt to slow things down but this allowed Kenneth Van Bilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen) to try and cross the gap. It didn’t come to much as Eisel and Quinziato began to drift backwards and pretty soon they were all back in the bunch. Up ahead the break had fractured and it was down to three riders, Phinney, Impey and Broeckx. Trentin had picked up the remaining riders along with Lens Keukeleire (Orica GreenEdge) who had joined him over the top.
Phinney was pushing at the front on the cobbles of the Paterberg, a short but very tough climb while at the back of the bunch Devolder went down again with four Tinkoff riders for company. Now it was Phinney and Impey on their own as Broeckx was struggling while the main group began to pick up the Trentin group.
Over the top and the Lotto rider rejoined the two leaders but their gap was only 39 seconds with the approaching Koppenberg coming up quickly. The combination of the Paterberg and the Devolder crash meant that the main bunch was now down to an elite group of about 30 with most of the main contenders there.
Into the Final 50
Omega was pushing the advantage and Boonen, Sagan, Cancellara and Stybar were all marking each other with a handy looking Degenkolb also comfortable. Onto the Koppenberg and with Boonen and Terstra pushing the pace the break was finally reeled in with only Impey trying to hold out to the last. The pace slowed as riders looked around for teammates and the groups began to merge.
With 40 km and five more climbs to go the slight relaxation in the pace didn’t last for long and the group with Boonen, Cancellara and Sagan was still holding a gap over the chasers. Next up it was the turn of Boasson Hagen, Dries Devenyns (Giant Shimano) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega) to have a go and they got a small gap that they hoped they could maintain over the Taaienberg that followed on so quickly. Over the top and they had 14 seconds but as they hit the second climb Vandenbergh cracked and Omega was on the defensive for the first time. Cancellara was also getting tired of towing Sagan in the main group.
Boasson Hagen and Devenyns had a slender lead as they now headed to the Kruisberg but with Omega and Cannondale continuing to drive the chasers it wouldn’t hold out for long.
The Kruisberg is a gentle ascent and it was never destined to produce the race-winning move but that’s exactly what Greg Van Avermaet tried to do. He was covered by Vandenbergh but it was down to the BMC rider to make all of the running. Sagan was leading the chase and riders were trying to clip off but with everyone struggling, or saving their final efforts, the two leaders were moving away, albeit by a small margin.
Onto the Kwaremont for the last time and Van Avermaet knew he would have to lose Vandenbergh if he was to be in with a chance. Thirty seconds behind Boonen and the others were watching each other as if the two leaders didn’t really matter.
Just over 20 km and the two leaders were still ahead with Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Luca Paolini (Katusha) chasing at 24 seconds. Paolini had crossed from the second chase group and attacked the Boonen group almost straight away but he was to pay the price as he couldn’t maintain the effort and began to fade.
And now Cancellara showed his hand as he took off up the road with Vanmarcke (Belkin) for company. Boonen’s chance had gone as Sagan led the chase group but Cancellara was looking mighty. Up ahead Vandenbergh had to either work with Van Avermaet or be overwhelmed by the charging Trek rider. With the Omega rider sitting in Van Avermaet tried again and again to shed him but to no avail. Behind, Boonen got back to the Sagan group but Cancellara was pushing on up ahead.
Onto the final climb of the day and the BMC rider’s continual digs finally paid off as he shed his Omega shadow. Sep Vanmarke tried to attack Cancellara but he didn’t have enough and together they caught Vandenbergh. Van Avermaet was over the top of the Paterberg with just 12 km to go but with less than 10 seconds over a flying Cancellara it was never going to be enough.
Dash For the Line
And now there were four together up front but they had a slender lead as Omega tried to salvage their day by getting Terpstra across to the leaders in the company of a chasing Kristoff (Katusha). Vandenbergh was not taking turns up front and with 7.5 km to go the leaders had 26 seconds over the bunch and 11 seconds over the two chasers. Thomas and Boonen were in a group of four chasing the Sagan group but they were 15 seconds behind and the finish was coming up quickly.
The leading four push on to the line
With 5 km to go it now looked certain that the winner was going to come from this lead group of four with Cancellara and Vanmarcke looking the strongest. Vandenbergh was doing short turns and Van Avermaet had left so much energy on the road today already.
Vandenbergh made the first attack at under 4 km to go but was brought back by the BMC rider. He tried again and once again Van Avermaet went across to him forcing Vanmarcke to chase while Cancellara held his nerve. All together as they entered the final 1000 meters and again Vandenbergh made his move but it wasn’t enough. Van Avermaet was on the front but at 200 meters it was Cancellara who opened up from the back and passed them all to take the sprint, beating the BMC rider into second. He was the defending champion and nobody was going to deny him today. Vanmarcke took third with a very tired Vandenbergh getting fourth. Kristoff and Terpstra were next to come home with Boonen leading in Thomas and Leukemans.
The day belonged to Spartacus but the most aggressive rider had to be Van Avermaet, the first Belgian rider of the day. The big losers were undoubtedly Omega Pharma-QS and although Boonen had played down his chances beforehand this will still be a sore loss. It also proved that Sagan is not unstoppable…and not many would have said that this time last year.
Stay tuned to PEZ for Lee’s Roadside Report, riders’ comments in EuroTrash Monday, all the best Pelopics and more.
Tour of Flanders 2014 Results:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
4 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
5 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
6 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
7 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
8 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
9 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Wanty – Groupe Gobert
10 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin Sharp