- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 11:22
- Cycling News
Huge crowds gather in Bruges
The start of the Tour of Flanders is like no other in cycling, and huge crowds gathered in Bruges on Sunday morning to cheer on the contenders for De Ronde.
As ever, the most raucous roars were for reserved for Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), but the Belgian champion’s race would prove to be short-lived. The peloton had scarcely left Bruges when Boonen was involved in a crash and forced to abandon.
Boonen’s ill fortune will have disappointed his legions of fans, but for all of their partisan support, the passion of the Flemish public is universal. Home contenders like Stijn Devolder (RadioShack Leopard), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) can always rely on vocal encouragement, but so too can the visitors such as Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) and Filippo Pozzato (Lampre Merida).
The great race is 100 years old in 2013, and on the evidence of Sunday morning in Bruges, the enthusiasm of the Flemish people for the Tour of Flanders remains undimmed.
- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 11:55
- Cycling News
Belgian hopes for aggressive race ahead of Oudenaarde finale
Greg Van Avermaet will assume the role of outright leader at BMC for the Tour of Flanders in Philippe Gilbert’s absence, but the Belgian said that he would have preferred to have had the world champion at his side on Sunday.
Van Avermaet and Gilbert had endured a frosty relationship during their time together at Lotto, but since they were reunited at BMC last season, the pair’s rapport has appeared somewhat more harmonious, helped in part, perhaps, by Gilbert’s lack of form last spring.
At BMC’s pre-race press conference, Van Avermaet said that Gilbert’s absence would have a significant impact on the outcome of the race. “It changes a lot because he’s the world champion and I’m a bit disappointed that he’s not here,” Van Avermaet said. “With him, we would have another strong rider in the final and maybe more opportunities but it’s like that and you cannot change it. Taylor Phinney is not here either, so we will see.”
Speaking to Cyclingnews during the Tour of Qatar last month, Van Avermaet had expressed his reservations about the new route of the Tour of Flanders, which was rolled out last season. Van Avermaet preferred the old finale over the Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg, but he conceded that at the second attempt, the new Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg circuit might be interpreted differently.
“It’s hard to say, but it’s the second time we do the parcours,” he said. “Last year, everybody was looking at each other a little bit but this time I hope the race is harder from a little earlier. In the end, I think the Kwaremont and Paterberg will be the key point and I think the strongest guys will go to the finish.”
The expectation is that those strongmen will prove to be Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), but Van Avermaet warned that there are other serious contenders for victory in Oudenaarde.
“Sagan and Cancellara are the favourites, but there are a lot of outsiders and strong collectives, like Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Sky, and we’re solid too,” Van Avermaet said, who pledged to go on the offensive. “It’s my way of riding. I’m like that and my best results – like my win at Paris-Tours or my podiums at Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem – have come by attacking and taking the initiative.”
Van Avermaet will be flanked by former world champion Thor Hushovd, who has had a mixed campaign to date and never enjoyed particular fortune at the Tour of Flanders. “It’s no doubt that Paris-Roubaix suits me better but I know I can be there for the win if everything goes right,” Hushovd said. “It’s a difficult race for me with all the climbs but I hope I have a good day because then I know everything can happen.”
Team manager John Lelangue, meanwhile, defended Gilbert’s decision to forgo the Tour of Flanders in favour of riding the Tour of the Basque Country, which gets underway on Monday.
“I was with Philippe in Monaco on Tuesday. He’s had a little cold since Paris-Nice and his main objectives since the beginning of the year are coming in the Ardennes,” Lelangue said. “Having him here not at 100% was not a wise solution. It was better to send him to the Basque Country to get six days of racing in his legs.”
It was a similar scenario for Taylor Phinney, who has his mind set on Paris-Roubaix. “Taylor’s main objective is Paris-Roubaix,” Lelangue said. “He hurt his knee in Gent-Wevelgem and it’s better that he rests to be 100% for next weekend.”
- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 13:20
- Cycling News
US-based Pro Conti squad in action in Belgium
The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, a US-based Pro Continental squad, has been in action in Europe this spring, most recently at Belgium's Three Days of De Panne stage race, encompassing four stages in three days from March 26 to 28.
Photographer Jonathan Devich has been travelling with the team and has provided this behind the scenes look at UnitedHealthcare's stint in Belgium.
Highlights for the team include Kiel Reijnen making the early break on the opening stage, Alessandro Bazzana making a key three-man escape late in stage 2 followed by a top-15 finish by sprinter Jake Keough in the finale, plus a top-10 finish by Bazzana on stage 3a.
Click here to view the photo gallery.
- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 17:05
- Daniel Benson
Team left to fight for minor placings in finale
Despite strength in numbers on the final lap of the Kwaremont and Paterberg, the BMC Racing team was left to fight for the minor places in the Tour of Flanders with Greg Van Avermaet their best placed finisher in seventh place.
BMC, like the rest of the peloton in Flanders, was simply blown away by Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) who soloed clear on the Paterberg to win his second Ronde title. With Peter Sagan and Jurgen Roelandts second and third the best BMC could have hoped for was fourth place.
At the finish in Oudenaarde BMC's team manager Jim Ochowicz was philosophical in defeat, praising his team's effort but admitting that they were simply up against an unstoppable force of nature in Cancellara.
"Overall things were okay. We didn't really have any big incidents out there today. Physically we were okay. We had three riders in the group coming in but Cancellara was by far the best rider today," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews.
"Look, the more people you have the longer they stay, the better chance you have but in the end you still have to have the strongest rider to do what Cancellara did. You could have 20 riders there but only one guy could do what he did today and he did it."
BMC's tactic of strength in numbers was in contrast to Lotto Belisol's policy of repeated attacks. First André Greipel and then Marcel Sieberg formed part of a dangerous attack in the second half of the race, and then Jurgen Roelandts linked up with Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Sébastien Turgot (Team Europcar) and Sébastien Hinault (IAM Cycling) and Maarten Tjallingii (Team Blanco).
"The move paid off for Roelandts who stayed clear over the final ascent of the Kwaremont and then joined up with Peter Sagan on the run into the finish. That was good. Tactically that was really good," conceded Ochowicz.
"When Roelandts went I wish one of our guys had gone with him because it was much easier going in front of those guys. Going up the Kwaremont you saw what Cancellara did with Sagan barely on his wheel, so it was really a tactically great move by Lotto."
Greg Van Avermaert satisfied
With Cancellara clear and Sagan and Roelandts set to decide the final places on the podium BMC still had strength in numbers but was unable to remedy the situation with either a chase or a place in the top five. The responsibility fell on Van Avermaet, who was fourth in the Ronde last year, and who was the team's best sprinter.
"I can't blame myself because I rode a good race. I just couldn't follow when Cancellara and Sagan left off," said Van Avermaet.
"There was nothing possible against that. Too bad because I felt good but there are few opportunities to try something. I'm satisfied with my result. If you encounter Cancellara and Sagan...then there's not much to do about that."
Ochowicz agreed that there was little BMC could have done once the podium places had been decided and that Van Avermaet had performed to expectations.
"If you picked up yesterday's papers and looked at the star ratings he finished where he should have finished. Somewhere between 5 and 10. Okay, he wasn't a favourite to win and he wasn't a favourite to be on the podium. I'm not disappointed with him but I wish we could have had a better placing but we didn't."
"When people are that strong you're just trying to hang on for dear life and you hope for the best that they don't get too far ahead. When you're watching television and you see what he's doing and he's solo, I know there's no one in the world that can catch him."
With Cancellara in a rich vein of form similar to 2010 when he romped to a Flanders-Roubaix double, the rest of the peloton will be trying to play catch up, or hoping for divine intervention, before next week's arrival on the pave of France. Thor Hushovd may be better suited to that race than he is for Flanders, plus BMC's ranks will be bolstered in Paris-Roubaix with Taylor Phinney set to return from a knee injury, but BMC may have to take a leaf out of Lotto Belisol's book if they are to attain a podium place.
"Roubaix is a good race for us. Taylor will be there and he's really motivated. We have Burghardt who was in the front group, Oss and Quinziato wasn't too far behind. The guys who are going to be there for us next week are all in good shape, they like the distance and they like pavé."
- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 17:28
- Barry Ryan
RadioShack rider on Boonen, Sagan and his knock out blow to win Flanders
The Tour of Flanders had been billed as a something of a prize fight, and after three rounds over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, it was the experienced slugger Fabian Cancellara who prevailed over the young contender Peter Sagan to claim victory, with a knock-out victory.
In Oudenaarde’s main square after the race, RadioShack-Leopard manager Luca Guercilena acknowledged the race for what it had been – a protracted duel between the two strongest riders.
“In the end Fabian won like it was a boxing match,” Guercilena said. “The old guy beat the young boxer with a knock-out punch,” he said.
That telling blow arrived on the final ascent of the Paterberg, but Cancellara had already begun the softening up process by hitting the front on the Oude Kwaremont just beforehand. He had exposed a chink in Sagan’s defences on the same climb at E3 Harelbeke last week, although this time the Slovak proved more resilient to Cancellara’s initial probing.
“I accelerated the first time to see what would happen, as we were still in a big group,” Cancellara said of the move that brought him and Sagan up to the wheel of escapee Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) as they approached the Paterberg.
Before the race, no less a figure than Tom Boonen had speculated that Sagan would be the quickest man up the Paterberg, but on the short but steep wall, it was Cancellara who began to wear down his rival’s resistance. An exploratory jab suggested that Sagan’s legs were wobbling, and the decisive combination arrived near the summit.
“I was alone with Peter. I wouldn’t say that I accelerated exactly, but I put it a bit harder to see his reaction,” Cancellara said, matter-of-factly explaining how he watched Sagan’s front wheel slip out of range of his peripheral vision. “I was looking for him, I could see his wheel falling back so I just continued.”
Although the gap was just a handful of seconds when Cancellara swung left atop the Paterberg, the final 13 kilometres proved little more than a prolonged procession, a time trial to the finish, as the Swiss rider stretched out his lead to some 1:27 by the finish.
On Easter Sunday three years ago, the disarming facility with which Cancellara dispatched of Tom Boonen on the Muur to win on the old course raised eyebrows and wild accusations of electric motors. This time around, Cancellara was seemingly again on another planet: the ease with which he pulled away from the chasers on the wide, exposed run-in to Oudenaarde was startling.
“The old course had a lot of emotion with the Muur and the Bosberg, but things change in cycling,” Cancellara said. “The last 10km were good for me today because they meant that I could pull away, although I think a smaller road would be better for the finale. But we have to live with that, and I’m just happy to have won on both courses.”
Praise for Sagan
Ahead of Milan-San Remo, Cancellara had chastised Sagan mildly for his exuberant victory celebrations and for his failure to collaborate when the pair escaped on the opening road stage of last year’s Tour de France. The contrast between the worldviews of the older and supposedly more austere Cancellara and the young, insouciant Sagan had generated plenty of column inches in the build-up to De Ronde.
After fending off his young foe, however, Cancellara had nothing but praise for Sagan when they sat side by side in front of the television cameras near the finish, acknowledging that the Cannondale rider had collaborated with him on the Kwaremont.
“He didn’t have to do it. He has to do my race and I have to do mine. Everybody said it going to be Peter Sagan against me, and that meant his team and my team had to take responsibility.”
Indeed, the RadioShack Leopard team defied pre-race expectations that it would prove to be Cancellara’s Achilles heel. Hayden Roulston put in a mammoth stint on the first circuit over the final two climbs, while a seemingly reanimated Stijn Devolder played a hugely prominent part in the race’s endgame.
“In 2011, I was also strong but they destroyed my team early, so I told the guys it was important for me not to be alone in the finale,” Cancellara said. “The guys were super strong. Hayden and Stijn led on the laps. We really wanted to control the part after the Kwaremont and Paterberg, to stop any attacks there.”
Cancellara also had a thought for his eternal rival Tom Boonen, who was left sprawling on the canvass by a crash during the frantic opening hour of racing.
“I was almost next to him when he fell, and it was a very sad moment to see Tom crash,” he said, remembering his own crash in the 2012 Tour of Flanders.
“For a few minutes I was just empty, because I remembered what happened to me last year. It was not the Easter day that the race wanted, but I hope Belgium is happy with my win.”
Thoughts turn now to Paris-Roubaix. With both Boonen (injured) and Sagan (resting for Amstel Gold Race) among the absentees, there appears to be a paucity of contenders to go toe to toe with Cancellara on the pavé as he seeks the second Flanders-Roubaix double of his career.
“On paper, it’s easy, it’s predictable for you [the press] already, but it’s still another race,” Cancellara said. “People talk about next week, but I want to enjoy today. You never know what is tomorrow.”
- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 18:21
- Brecht Decaluwé
Lotto Belisol impressive at Flanders with preemptive attacks
In a predictable Ronde van Vlaanderen, there were few riders who managed to anticipate the moment when eventual winner Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Leopard) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) would unleash their strength on the Oude Kwaremont, 17km from the finish in Oudenaarde. However former Belgian champion Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) rode a clever race, sneaking away after the penultimate ascent of the Paterberg, 33km from the finish. It turned out to be an excellent tactical decision which eventually gave the 28 year-old rider a well-deserved podium spot in the 100th anniversary edition of the Ronde.
It was the first time Roelandts and his Lotto-Belisol team were able to leave their mark in the Spring Classics.
“For once the race went our way and I had no bad luck, no flat tires and nobody rode over my head. It’s the first time during this spring that I was able to show that I’ve taken a step up,” Roelandts said on Sporza radio. “Finishing third behind big guns like Cancellara and Sagan is nice. I knew before the race that those two were stronger than the rest.”
With that in mind, the Belgian team opted to break open the race as soon as possible. Tosh Van der Sande featured in the early breakaway group, then André Greipel attacked the peloton on the Molenberg and later Marcel Sieberg bridged up with the lead group. Meanwhile Roelandts stayed as calm as possible, tucked away in the peloton.
“Having some guys in the breakaway put me in a perfect position. Frederik Willems looked after me the whole day. I wanted a wide-open race and from the Molenberg on the team started attacking. I wanted to ride away before the Kwaremont but wanting is different to doing so. The legs are more decisive than the head to actually perform well. Luckily I had good legs today. After climbing the Paterberg it was the moment to go. It was partly instinctively but when you have the legs everything is much easier. I had something extra left in my legs.”
Roelandts got into a group with Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM), Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Sébastien Hinault (IAM Cycling) and Sébastien Turgot (Team Europcar) which caught up with Michael Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) before the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
“I did most of the work in front but when I heard we had half a minute on the peloton I gave all I had. It no longer made sense to wait,” he explained.
A special Kwaremont moment
During the first asphalted part of the Oude Kwaremont only Kwiatkowski and Selvaggi managed to keep up. Once on the cobbled part of the 2200m long climb, Roelandts rode solo and created a sizeable gap over his rivals. Meanwhile Cancellara and Sagan attacked the peloton and were closing the gap.
“Riding alone over the Kwaremont was one of the highlights of my career,” Roelandts stated.
At the top he still had a 15-second gap over the two favourites behind him but Roelandts decided to sit up and save some energy.
“When I saw the two riders coming up I knew straight away who they were. I tried to recover and stayed in the wheels until the Paterberg. Once there it was impressive to see how Cancellara rode away. I reached the top and could no longer saw him. The only thing I thought about was getting back on Sagan’s wheel,” Roelandts said.
He knew that holding off the small peloton behind him in the final 13km to the finish would be a hard thing on his own.
“There was a headwind towards the finish. It hurt massively. We came on the main road towards the finish and saw the group coming up behind us, they came very close. I fully co-operated with Sagan. I went 100% for the podium. By then Cancellara was already half a minute ahead of us.”
With Cancellara gone for good, second place was the best possible result left for the Belgian rider. Back in 2008, Roelandts became Belgian champion in a bunch sprint in which he held off today’s unlucky favourite Tom Boonen. This time around there was not much to do against Slovakian youngster Peter Sagan.
“I tried my best by skipping pulls but well...” Roelandts laughed, pointing out there was a big difference in speed at the finish.
Next week Roelandts will again be a man to take into account at Paris-Roubaix, as he’s able to handle the cobbles even better than the hellingen hills in Flanders.
Team manager Marc Sergeant agreed and expressed his desire for a race scenario like the one that resulted in the win for Johan Vansummeren.
“Cancellara will be the outspoken favourite. Back then that was the case too and somehow everybody rode against him. If that is the case again then a group with outsiders might go the distance again,” Sergeant said.
- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 18:57
- Barry Ryan
Slovak happy with second place at Tour of Flanders
It was a different kind of second place finish for Peter Sagan (Cannondale) at the Tour of Flanders. Two weeks ago at Milan-San Remo, he could scarcely hide his dismay after allowing a maiden monument victory to slip through his grasp and into the lap of Gerald Ciolek.
However in Oudenaarde on Sunday, Sagan even punched the air in celebration on crossing the line in second place, 1:27 down on winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard).
That Sagan had claimed his first classic victory at Gent-Wevelgem on the intervening weekend had doubtless helped to soften the blow, and he had the air of a man determined to view his glass as half-full rather than half-empty after the race.
When complimented on his performance, Sagan allowed himself a wry smile and quipped: “Well, Cancellara did a nicer race, no?”
Sagan and Cancellara had been the overwhelming pre-race favourites, and the pair duly went head-to-head on the final circuit over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. Sagan matched his rival pedal stroke for pedal stroke on the first climb as they leapt across to escapee Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol). But on the Paterberg, Cancellara edged away near the summit and then hammered clear over the top, never to be seen again.
“We went away in a break on the Oude Kwaremont, but then Cancellara went for it on the Paterberg and I wasn’t able to follow him,” Sagan conceded.
Rather than sit and wait for the twenty-strong chasing group that was taking shape behind, Sagan opted to continue in his effort with Roelandts, acknowledging that he was already effectively racing for second place.
“I said to myself that it was better to wait for Jurgen, because we could work together. There was still a decent group behind us but if the two of us worked together, we had a better chance of making it to the finish,” Sagan said. “We held off the group and we managed to get a nice second place, so that’s why I celebrated at the finish.”
Sagan had committed the sin of presumption at Milan-San Remo, but at the Tour of Flanders, he made few of the positional errors that have compromised him on the cobbles in the past. His one fault – a crash near the Berendries – went largely unpunished.
“I fell with 100 kilometres to go because I had taken my hands off the bars to eat on the cobbles. But I got back on quite easily and then I did the best I could to stay in front,” Sagan said. “I rode well but I wasn’t able to hold Cancellara on the last climb.”
Satisfied with his cobbled-Classics campaign
Sagan’s early season was built around the two weeks between Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, and he declared himself pleased with the balance sheet as he closes his own account for the cobbled Classics.
“My objective from the start of the season was to do well in these Classics and I’ve done well. I lost one race through my own mistake and in another two, I came up against Fabian who was going very, very well,” he said. “There was nothing I could do.”
Some nine years younger than Cancellara, Sagan can console himself in the knowledge that time is on his side as he looks to add a monument victory to his palmares. In light of the images circulating of his sorry bout of Sagan’s bad behaviour on the podium, it is to be hoped that Sagan might mature at a somewhat quicker pace off the bike.
His next tilt at a monument might not come until 2014, as he confirmed that he will not line up at Paris-Roubaix. He participated in the Hell of the North in each of his first two professional seasons, but wins and WorldTour points are the priority for his Cannondale team in the coming weeks, rather than gaining experience.
“I had a bet: if I won today, they would have let me do Roubaix but instead I have to rest up for Amstel Gold Race,” Sagan explained.
- Article published:
- March 31, 2013, 19:50
- Jane Aubrey
Hot run of form continues for Katusha sprinter
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) continued his impressive run of form, leading home the chase group 1:39 behind winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) to finish just off the podium in fourth at the Tour of Flanders.
Although pleased with the result, the 25-year-old Norwegian was half wondering what might have been as one of the on-form sprinters during the week at the Three Days of De Panne. Kristoff was in cahoots with a strong-looking Sébastien Turgot (Europcar), Greg Van Avermaet, Daniel Oss (BMC), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), Sebastian Langeveld (Orica GreenEdge), Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Sky) to name a few that was bearing down on the day's other podium getters, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol).
"It's a shame that we didn't catch Sagan and Roelandts because then I could have been second," a confident Kristoff told Cyclingnews at the finish in Oudenaarde. "They were strong and we weren't able to catch them. That's how it is."
He admitted, however, that he was almost resigned to a showdown between Cancellara and Sagan on the final time up the Old Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
"I expected it but I'd worked hard the whole race to follow them," he said. "I was just trying to do my race and stay in the front group and I managed that so I'm happy."
Kristoff was eighth in Milan-San Remo and then followed that up with two top-20 results at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem before racing De Panne in the lead up to the centenary edition of the Tour of Flanders. There, he finished third behind Sagan on the opening stage and was fifth on stage 2 before claiming stage 3a and earning a brief stint in the yellow leader's jersey. Aiming for a top-10 performance at De Ronde, to improve on his 15th place in 2012, the Norwegian was already thinking ahead to next Sunday and Paris-Roubaix.
"I'm happy with my condition and I hope it lasts one more week," he grinned, lips cracked and face caked in dirt.
"Normally I haven't been quite so good on Roubaix but I'm feeling quite good on the cobblestones at the moment so I'll try to do my best and hopefully it will be like today."