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Flanders’16: Superbe Sagan!
Race Report: Sagan is simply the best. The World Champion, Peter Sagan went solo on the Paterberg, the final climb of the Tour of Flanders and the Tinkoff rider was able to hold off Fabia Cancellara, a man driven by history. Curse of the rainbow jersey? What Curse? Super Sagan's Monumental Day in Vlaanderen.

The day started with a hard first hour of racing which prevented any break from going clear. When one did finally go clear it was kept close by the chasing peloton. Arguably the ride of the race came from Imanol Erviti and Dmitri Claeys who managed to stick with the leading riders all the way until the final 20km.

The race was affected by crashes early on as Tiesj Benoot, Arnaud Démare and Greg Van Avermaet all abandoned but the finish had nothing to do with good luck as Sagan cemented his place as the best allround rider in the peloton. He held off the incredible pursuit of Cancellara and Vanmarcke to secure his first monument. The first of many.

100ste Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016
The first monument for Sagan

Route
The Tour of Flanders begins in Brugge, the Venice of Belgium, and heads south to the finish town of Oudenaarde which it reaches around the 100km mark. So far, so simple but this is when the route becomes complicated.The riders will now complete two laps to the south east of Oudenaarde. The first lap will take in, amongst nine other climbs, the Oude Kwaremont twice and the Paterberg once, before handing off to the smaller final lap for the Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Kruisberg, and Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. On the first lap the largest gap between bergs is 20km but that drops to just 11km for the final stages of the race.

Although Flanders is a race that is used to being run under pounding rain and temperatures approaching freezing it was a pleasant change for the peloton with temperatures in the high teens and a light wind from the south.

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Breaks are Bad
As with all races in the last week, the Tour of Flanders started under a grey cloud for cycling. Last weekend was one of the worst weekends in the sport's history as two Belgians, Antoine Demoitie and Daan Myngheer both lost their lives. The team of Demoitie, Wanty-Groupe Gobert started the race after cancelling their midweek races in France. Roubaix Lille Metropole, the team of Myngheer, weren't selected as a wildcard for the race but the riders did pass through Hooglede early on, the home town of Daan.

The first hour of racing covered 46.4km and despite the number of breakaway attempts made none of them stuck. In fact, it wasn't until the race was almost at the first passage of the finish line in Oudenaarde that a break was actually established containing; Hugo Houle (AG2R-La Mondiale), Lukas Postelberger (Bora-Argon 18), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Gijs van Hoecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Wesley Kreder (Roompot-Oranje Peloton) and Federico Zurlo (Lampre-Merida).

Kenny Dehaes (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) had been involved in a number of the attempted breaks in the first hour of racing but had missed the one that got away. He was stuck in no man's land with a two minute gap on the peloton and a two minute deficit on the leading six men.

Carnage!
The fast start to the race seemed to give way to a more leisurely middle section. This lull was short lived though as first Arnaud Démare (FDJ) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) went down hard, the Welshman was quickly up with only superficial damage but Démare was less fortunate. The Milan-San Remo winner was the first high profile victim of the narrow Belgian roads.

After the Eikenberg, the third climb of the day, there was another crash which split the fast moving peloton. This time the worst effected were Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) who were both taken away in an ambulance. The increased pace was also terminal for the hopes of Kenny Dehaes who was hauled back into the peloton after his brave effort.

Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNl-Jumbo) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) were the next riders to suffer bad luck as they both suffered mechanicals, not for the first time that day, they were able to get going quickly but there were few favorites left who hadn't had some kind of misfortune.

With 100km left to race it was game over for Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), he crashed along with four other members of his team and was left in tears sitting in the gutter. Taylor Phinney was virtually the last man standing for the Swiss/American team but the Etixx - Quick-Step led peloton were ramping up the pain.

100ste Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016
Not Greg Van Avermaet's day as he crashed out with four of his teammates

Re-Gathering
With 93km to go the race took a brief breather. The break now only had a 1 minute advantage and consisted of just Erviti and Van Hoecke with Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Nils Politt (Katusha) sat in between the break and the peloton. Greipel might have lost one of his team leaders but the Belgian team still had Jurgen Roelandts and it was clear that they were now moving into Plan B, one that didn't include Benoot.

There was also a re-gathering at the front as Greipel and Politt, alongside Houle who had been dropped earlier, rejoined the front two of the race. They had pushed out their advantage to 1:38 and no team was taking control of the front of the race. The previous dominance of Trek-Segafredo and Etixx - Quick-Step had seeped back into the pack and it was clear that teams were conserving energy for the final 50km.

The action in the peloton had almost ground to a halt but the leading break had added two additional members; Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana) and Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Groupe Gobert). They had pushed their advantage beyond the two minute mark. With 66km to go it was still advantage peloton but if they continued their stalemate the gap could begin to get away from them.

100ste Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016
A great race from Dimitri Claeys to finish 9th

Kwaremont Mach 2
The stalemate didn't last though and with 56km to go the pace ratcheted up as they raced into the Oude Kwaremont. The break were also starting to feel the pace, Claeys had struck out alone on the climb and Houle, who had been in difficulty for the majority of the last 70km, was sent backwards.

There were no major movers in the peloton but Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx - Quick-Step) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale) pushed off the front but their advantage was very slim ahead of the peloton which now contained no more than 40 riders.

Andre Greipel had done a lot of the work to establish the break but his patience had clearly run out and he attacked with 45km to go on the run into the Koppenberg. He was caught by Claeys, who was having a storming race, at the top of the climb and they now led a 4 man break.

Cancellara had been well hidden for the last 100km but he was now at the front on the Koppenberg and his pace was ending the hopes of many riders further back. Boasson-Hagen (Dimension Data), Lars Boom (Astana) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) were all looking strong behind the Flying Swiss.

The lead group continued to put up a valiant fight and they now had added firepower with the addition of Vandenbergh and Van Baarle. The pair had never had a large gap from the front of the peloton but they'd just calmly fought their way across to the leading four.

Sky had men at the front of the peloton but they hadn't done much to influence the race until Stannard was sent clear with 40km left to ride on the Steenbeekdries. Stannard sailed by Gruzdev, who had been kicked out of the break, and began clawing back the leading group.

100ste Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016
One surprise was seeing Andre Greipel in the break

Splits and More Splits
The race was now in pieces with the leading six ahead of Stannard. Sagan, Cancellara and Geraint Thomas were in a group of 20 riders, the fourth group on the road. Stannard was looking strong but his break attempt was thwarted by the group containing his team leader, Thomas.

Kwiatkowski (Sky) was driving the peloton and his pace was so high that he disengaged from the peloton with only Sagan and Vanmarcke able to follow. The gap was negligible but the Pole was on fire and his hardwork was pulling the group to a 20 second lead over the main peloton which still contained Cancellara and Boonen.

The group of favorites finally noticed the danger once the gap to Sagan went out to 30 seconds but only the Trek-Segafredo team seemed interested in leading the chase. Stijn Devolder (Trek-Segafredo) was sent to flog himself in the interests of Cancellara but his efforts were only enough to hold the gap rather than close it.

At the front the leading five became a leading 8 as Vanmarcke, Sagan and Kwiatkowski joined them. The added firepower at the front was no match for Devolder who had somehow found some more pain to extract as he turned himself inside out once again to limit the gap to just 27 seconds.

The Kwaremont beckoned once again and the race could still have been one by any of 30 riders. Kristoff and Geraint Thomas had sent riders to the front to close the gap but it still stood at 24 seconds. It was finally turning back towards the peloton as they hit the Kwaremont within view of the break. Sagan was driving the break and he was joined by Vanmarcke and Claeys. Kwiatkowski was fading but Cancellara was on fire. No one could follow the Swiss and there was no one in between him and the leaders.

Claeys had had a brilliant race in memory of his fallen team mate but he could no longer hold the wheels and his departure left just Sagan and Vanmarcke in the lead.

100ste Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016
The World champion went for it on the Paterberg

Last Climb of the Day
Cancellara may have looked unstoppable when he attacked but he wasn't able to close the gap and he dropped back to a three man group including Terpstra (Etixx - Quick-Step) and, incredibly, Claeys and Erviti. The latter two, unsurprisingly, weren't assisting the chase but Terpstra seemed unwilling to help and the Sagan gap was growing.

The Paterberg was the final climb of the day and it was where Sagan finally broke Vanmarcke. The Slovakian slowly crushed the Belgian's chances on the cobbled climb and he had 13 seconds with 12km to go. The one advantage Vanmarcke had was that he was now joined by Cancellara who had broken away from his group. Sagan was flying and he was beginning to eek out more of an advantage. When Cancellara was leading the gap was coming down but when he gave way to Vanmarcke it ebbed away again.

Sagan had looked on the edge of breaking the elastic completely but he hadn't done it yet. Cancellara was almost single handedly leading the chase and he was keeping the time down to 15 seconds. It was now 13 seconds. Vanmarcke was doing almost nothing but the little turns he was doing were enough to keep the gap down. These were now the only 3 riders left with a chance to win the race.

The question was; who would fade first? The answer seemed to be Cancellara. Sagan had gone through a difficult few kilometers where it looked like he was going to succumb to the Cancellara led chase but as he went under the 3km banner he had pushed his lead out beyond 20 seconds.

Under the flamme rouge and it was clear that the World Champion would be the Tour of Flanders champion. He had simply out-thought and out-ridden the rest of the peloton. Cancellara crossed in second in-front of a dejected Vanmarcke. He'd tried everything but ultimately it wouldn't be a fourth Flanders for Cancellara.

100ste Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016
No fourth Flanders for Fabian Cancellara

Tour of Flanders Result:
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff in 6:10:37
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek-Segafredo at 0:25
3. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) LottoNl-Jumbo at 0:28
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha at 0:49
5. Luke Rowe (GB) Sky
6. Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale
7. Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar
8. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step
9. Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
10. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Etixx - Quick-Step
11. Lars Boom (Ned) Astana
12. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky
13. Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step at 0:56
14. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana at 1:00
15. Tom Boonen (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step
16. Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC at 1:02
17. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 1:16
18. Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana
19. Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC
20. Scott Thwaites (GB) Bora-Argon 18
21. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEDGE
22. Oliver Naesen (Bel) IAM Cycling
23. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
24. Marco Marcato (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
25. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana.

 


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