Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) captured an enthralling Milan-San Remo, outsprinting Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) at the end of the race. The three had gotten away on the final climb, the Poggio, and maintained a narrow lead to the end.
"I still haven't realized what we actually did today," said Gerrans. "This is an amazing feeling to win this monument. The team rode perfectly, and we played our cards just the right way."
The 2012 Tour of Flanders is already one of the most talked about editions in the long and distinguished history of the race. Significant changes to the route for this year have caused controversy, with riders and fans reacting with consternation to the removal of the Muur van Geraardsbergen from the parcours.
Nevertheless the race will retain its status as one of the most loved and eagerly anticipated of the season and remains Belgium’s premier Monument. The Tour of Flanders traditionally attracts the best riders in the world to the start line, but riders of other nationalities are always fighting the home team here. The race is a national emblem in Belgium and the host country’s riders have won almost seven times more titles here than any other nation. Tom Boonen, who has been in fine early season form, is sure to make a bold bid to continue that dominance, provided he gets to grips with the changes to the course.
The Classic is the first of the true Northern classics and the second of cycling's five Monuments.
There is no other race in the world like the Paris-Roubaix. The French race is known as the Hell of the North thanks to its torturous pavé sectors and the many stories of pain and destruction that they hold.
Dreams of riders like George Hincapie and Johan Museeuw have ended in tears along the roadside, but the risks make the victory in velodrome that much sweeter. After 260 kilometres, around 50 on pavé, the race ends with one and a half laps on Roubaix's outdoor track.
Win in Roubaix, the third of the Monuments, and you are considered a god. Riders like Fausto Coppi, Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser, Sean Kelly and Tom Boonen have tamed Paris-Roubaix's pavé for the well-earned status.
The Dutch Classic the Amstel Gold Race has a character all of its own: twisty and narrow roads, short and steep climbs, and crazed orange-clad fans. The first of three Ardennes Classics is a race to watch and one for the riders to add to their palmarès.
The relatively new classic (this year celebrating its 46th edition) starts in Maastricht and ends with three circuits on the Cauberg. The first two times up the 1.5-kilometre climb splits the race into select groups, while the final ascent decides the race winner.
Home team Rabobank goes all out to make its presence felt in this race, but in recent years it has fallen short of the victory. Italians have made this race theirs since Erik Dekker last won for Rabobank and the Netherlands in 2001.
Belgium's Flèche Wallonne is a mid-week race with a short distance of 200 kilometres, but that does not change the importance of this race that always ends with spectacular explosions on the famed Mur de Huy. The climb is a 1300-metre leg-snapping ascent that averages 9.3 percent gradient and boasts a maximum of 25 per cent.
The second of three Ardennes Classics starts at a leisurely pace in the Walloon city of Charleroi, but it ends with two rings of fire (if you will) around the city of Huy. The riders scale the Mur de Huy the first time to start the smaller circuit that ends with Huy. From there it is all about positioning for the final larger circuit: Côte de Peu d'Eau, Côte de Haut-Bois, Côte de Thon, Côte de Bonneville, Côte de Bohissau, Côte de Ahin and Mur de Huy.
Riders need to be in the front 15 for the Mur de Huy. Then, whoever wants to win needs to wait to the last three-hundred metres to light his dynamite. A well-timed blast will produce a victory, but an early move will mean you are gasping for breath on the fan-lined Mur.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège ends the run of Northern Classics that started with the Tour of Flanders and settles the week-long Ardennes Classics supremacy battle. It packs numerous côtes on the out-and-back run from Belgium's city of Ans, just south of Liège.
On the return journey to Ans, the favourites will start to move forward in the pack. One of the toughest battles will be waged on the 2.1-kilometre La Redoute, coming at kilometre 226 and 35 kilometres from the finish. La Redoute will be an indicator of how the race will continue to unfold over the three following côtes of Sprimont (-29km), Roche aux Faucons (-19.5km) and Saint-Nicolas (-5.5km).
The finish to Ans is not considered one of the official climbs, but it rises steadily over the final two kilometres.
La Doyenne ('The Grand Old Lady') is the fourth of cycling's five Monuments. The fifth Monument, the Tour of Lombardy, comes almost six months later.
One of the biggest challenges for the team is financial. “We don't have the financial strength like some of the larger teams,” he said, but this only serves to help motivate the team.
In addition, “the logistics are almost more difficult than the riding,” he said. “We must improvise a lot!”
The video also looks at Italian rider Cesare Benedetti, who has been with the team since its beginning and seems likely to be nominated to ride the Giro. “I think my place in cycling is to be a good helper,” he said.
40 original jerseys to raise money for flood-affected Liguria
In a bid to raise money for the flooded areas of Liguria, Italy, non-profit organisation Rock No War! Onlus, together with race organiser RCS Sport and All1sport.com have put together an auction involving about 40 original cycling jerseys. Amongst the items are the jersey worn by Fabian Cancellara in Milan-San Remo, Vincenzo Nibali's overall victory jersey from Tirreno-Adriatico and the jersey that Philippe Gilbert wore in Milan-San Remo.
Also up for auction are the jerseys that Filippo Pozzato, Alessandro Petacchi, Damiano Cunego, Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen and André Greipel wore during Milan-San Remo, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, complete with their back number still pinned on. Another item of high value will be the Italian flag that all the riders signed at the start of Milan-San Remo this year.
The auction is held on www.all1sport.com until Sunday, March 25. The funds will be donated for one of the projects of Rock No War! Onlus, namely the construction of playgrounds in the areas affected by the floods.
Leukemans, Devolder and Marcato now leaders in Belgian races
Vacansoleil-DCM has drawn a very positive balance after Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, and is now ready to change the composition of its rosters for the Flemish Spring Classics starting on Wednesday with Dwars Door Vlaanderen. At the Southern European stage races, the leaders for the Belgian Spring offered their services to the general classification riders, thereby preparing themselves out of the spotlights towards their peak of shape.
Leading the team for the next few weeks will be Björn Leukemans, Stijn Devolder and Marco Marcato. They will count on the support of the riders who showed their form recently, such as Lieuwe Westra, Kris Boeckmans, Frederik Veuchelen and Mirko Selvaggi.
Björn Leukemans will fulfill the same race programme as last year and add up Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Prijs, Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs, Paris-Roubaix, Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Belgian was held back by crashes and punctures last year, but still managed a 13th place in Roubaix and top 10 finishes in Flanders, Amstel and Liège.
"I feel good at the moment and I know that my shape is good. As from Dwars door Vlaanderen I want to confirm my shape and if I can get a good result over there I will surely take the opportunity," commented Leukemans, who counts on his teammates to support him. "Guys like Ligthart, Lindeman and Boeckmans are still young but they understand their task perfectly and they already showed it in the early season."
Two-time Tour of Flanders winner Stijn Devolder showed himself as a domestique in the finals of Tirreno-Adriatico, which helped build his condition for the Belgian races ahead. "I was capable of helping out Hoogerland and Poels and I have a good feeling so far. The cooperation with trainer Marc Lamberts and building my condition went really well. I am ambitious for the upcoming races," said Devolder, the team's second leader at Dwars Door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
Marco Marcato, who got sixth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, put in a training camp with the Italian national selection before Tirreno-Adriatico. "At Tirreno I wasn't as good as I hoped but on the other hand in 2011 I peaked too early. In Waregem [finish of Dwars Door Vlaanderen - ed.] I will have my first test."
Lieuwe Westra on the other hand, second-placed in Paris-Nice after a stunning duel against Bradley Wiggins (Sky), is looking forward to the Three Days of De Panne from March 27-29, his "second goal of the season. After a busy week with a lot of interviews I had good training in France the last weekend. From now on, the complete focus is on De Panne, while at Flanders and maybe Roubaix I will help my teammates. After Flanders I will spend most of my time in Spain to prepare towards the hilly Classics."
Team director Hilaire Van Der Schueren was very satisfied with his riders' outcome so far. "This year we have the luxury of a big selection which makes it possible for almost everyone to ride a well-balanced programme. Our leaders for the next races were able to work out of the limelight while others got results. We have a strong collective which we need to use in the coming weeks," Van Der Schueren said.
Besides the Flemish races, he already looked ahead to the hilly Classics. "Wout Poels and Johnny Hoogerland started the season at a real high level and now get the chance to prepare the next races. Besides that, Thomas De Gendt is working towards the Giro d'Italia as his first big goal of the season."
Chavanel back after bronchitis, Freire on form after San Remo
The Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Katusha teams have officially announced their squads for Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen and both teams are treating the 1.1 rated Belgian race as a serious prelude before the trio of World Tour events Gent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders all within the next 10 days.
The riders will face no less than 13 climbs distributed along the route, including the Oude Kwaremont and the Patersberg, two key ascents in the Tour of Flanders.
"It's an important race in which we will line up a squad that can bring results," said Omega Pharma-Quickstep director Wilfried Peeters. "The race is just a few days before Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, so it will be also a very important test for us. In the final the route is very challenging. The climb on Nokereberg is located at only 6 kilometres from the arrival so it could be a crucial point in the race."
Katusha will bring its fast men Oscar Freire and Denis Galimzyanov, the two have both started the year on a positive note with a string of results between them and will hope to continue that run in Belgium. Though never a star on the cobbles, Freire has distinguished himself over the years in Belgian, and a result in Gent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders are not beyond him.
Katusha: Oscar Freire (Spa), Denis Galimzyanov (Rus), Marco Haller (Aut), Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus), Alexander Porsev (Rus), Rudiger Selig (Ger), Alexey Tsatevich (Rus), Maxime Vantomme (Bel).
Omega Pharma - Quickstep: Matthew Brammeier (Irl), Sylvain Chavanel (Fra), Gerald Ciolek (Ger), Iljo Keisse (Bel), Nikolas Maes (Bel), Gert Steegmans (Bel), Niki Terpstra (Ned), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel)
Sevilla, now riding with Empacadora San Marcos after leaving the Gobernacion De Antioquia - Indeportes Antiquia team, escaped with six riders before leaving them all behind to solo in nearly three minutes ahead of his nearest competitor.
"This was a special day for me," Sevilla said, remembering his father 'Pepito', who died nine months ago.
Yet his time in the leader's jersey in Mexico may be limited as Wednesday's CAS hearing will determine whether or not the six-month ban he was given by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) was sufficient.
Australian against rumoured Milan-San Remo route change
Mark Renshaw made the switch from lead-out man at HTC-Highroad to lead sprinter at Rabobank during the off-season and the Australian will be looking to open his account with his new team when he lines up at Dwars Door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
The 200km race from Roeselare to Waregem marks the beginning of the countdown to the Tour of Flanders, and a well-balanced route offers classics contenders and sprinters alike the opportunity to contend for victory.
“I’m sure we’ll have a couple of protected riders, and we’ll have two different scenarios either for the sprint or the breakaway,” Renshaw told Cyclingnews in Sint-Martens-Latem near Gent on Tuesday. “A couple of the guys are going well, and if it comes back together I’ll be there for the sprint.”
With the likes of Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), Oscar Freire (Katusha) and Matt Goss (GreenEdge) all on hand, Renshaw will have no shortage of competition in the event of a sprint, but he expects his old sparring partner Mark Cavendish (Sky) to be the man to beat. “I know Cavendish is here. I spoke with him after San Remo and it will be hard if he finds better legs after San Remo.”
After Milan-San Remo failed to result in a bunch sprint on Saturday, hearts in the sprinting fraternity will have sunk still further at the news that the organisers are considering making the race more selective in 2012. One of the possible alterations is understood to be a deviation onto a steeper road towards the top of the Cipressa, while the finish line may also be brought forward from the Lungomare Italo Calvino to a point closer to the Poggio.
“I think as a fan of cycling I’d be disappointed to see it change,” Renshaw said. “If they do change it, I’d like to see it change back to the Via Roma, I think that was one of the best finishes for San Remo and if they make it any shorter then I think they’re going to wreck the race. There’s a good saying: ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ So I’d leave it as it is.”
The Belgian has resumed training, six days after crash on the descent of the Col de Vence while pacing teammate Levi Leipheimer back to the peloton. Devenyns, coming out of a corner, was unable to avoid a gendarme on his motorbike who was on the side of road assisting Matthew Lloyd (Lampre-ISD) who had earlier come to grief.
The injury forced Devenyns out of Milan-San Remo, which was hardly surprising.
"Today is the first day I've had a better feeling on my bike," Devenyns said. "I had five hours of training, so I am happy with that and am looking forward to the next days. I have six hours on the bike in the next days as well. I've only felt better in the last couple of days. If you asked me four or five days ago I would have been more pessimistic, but now I am having good feelings."
According to the press release issued by his team, no decision on the 28-year-old’s race schedule will be made following observation of his condition in the next few days.
"April 1st is the Tour of Flanders, and everybody in the town is excited about the race," Devenyns, who lives on the critical passage of Tour of Flanders on the Kwaremont, said. "They've been knocking on my door, checking on me, to see if I am going to make it or not. It really gives me a lot of courage and strength to have the support from friends and family, and the town, but also from the team and medical staff. Whether or not I make it, the support makes a lot of difference. For sure I have pain, it's a shoulder fracture and takes some time to heal. But there is nothing I can do about it, and I feel less pain because of the support I have."
Meantime, the Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad rode to second place on Stage 2 of the Volta a Catalunya on Tuesday, courtesy of Dario Cataldo. The Italian was at the front of a 20-plus rider front split as they negotiated a fast and technical descent following category 1 climb Alt Dels Àngels. The front group chased down three attacking riders, including Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) and Matteo Cararra (Vacansoleil) with less than three kilometres remaining.
Team leader Leipheimer finished 23rd in the stage, with the front split. He now stands in 24th on general classification, 1:32 back.
"We did the best for our main job, which was to protect Levi," Cataldo said. "Tomorrow is the most important race, and today it was to be in the front for the last kilometers. We did it, and we did a really great job. In the last three kilometers, we were in the small peloton and I had a talk with Levi. We decided to let me do the sprint. So I tried, and was pretty fast with a small group. But after climbs like those, I was already a bit tired. I found the right position, but the legs were already a bit tired. It's all the small things — together you can win or lose the sprint. But we did a great job with our main goal, and if we could have won also today it would have been really great. But it's still a good result. The bigger goal is for tomorrow with Levi."