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Conclusions from E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem

By:
Daniel Benson
Race:
E3 Harelbeke
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack - Leopard)

Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack - Leopard)

  • Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack - Leopard)
  • Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma Quickstep) crashed in Gent-Wevelgem
  • Podium: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack - Leopard) in first, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in second, Daniel Oss (BMC) in third
  • Peter Sagan (Cannondale) out sprints Daniel Oss (BMC) for second

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Boonen or bust?

This time last year Patrick Lefevere and his team couldn’t put a foot wrong, with Tom Boonen in the form of his life and wins in Dwars Door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Wins in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix were just around the corner in an unprecedented classics campaign.

On Sunday, Lefevere cut an exasperated figure on Belgian television having seen his star rider scrape himself off the tarmac and a team short of ideas and morale come away with another poor result.

Even if Boonen is able to recover in time for Flanders it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be in form by the time the race comes around. Roger De Vlaeminck – who would blame Boonen for Cyprus’ austerity measures if he was given enough time on the box – did make the rather salient point earlier this week that Boonen needs racing miles in his legs, and with that, Lefevere has decided to throw his leader into the mix at De Panne. Panic stations? Not quite, but while Cancellara is at home reading the papers with his feet up, his long-term rival is striving to save his spring.

Unleash the 'Machine’

Step forward Sylvain Chavanel. At 33, the Frenchman has become QuickStep’s most reliable performer in one-day races this season with 7th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 4th in Milan-San Remo and 6th in Harelbeke. While those results alone don’t guarantee a successful investment for Flanders and Roubaix they do furnish Lefevere with a plan B and, from a more cynical standpoint, an opportunity to parry the blame should Boonen fail to recover.

Chavanel, it must be remembered, finished second in Flanders two years ago, even edging out Cancellara, but if Lefevere backs him to the hilt, with even Boonen acting as a foil, Flanders is certainly winnable.

Chavanel has thrived with a free role in the past but his legs from Harelbeke and confidence from San Remo make him worthy of leadership. Who knows, we might even see the first French winner of a Monument since Laurent Jalabert won the Tour of Lombardy in 1997.

Sagan so good

After two second places in Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke it looked as though Peter Sagan hadn’t learnt from the mistakes that blighted his 2012 classics. Overestimating his sprint and underestimating Ciolek’s pace in Italy, followed by poor positioning in E3 Harelbeke, cost the Slovak dearly.

However, Cannondale were a team reborn in Gent-Wevelgem, chasing down a risky move in the early chapters of the race and then positioning their leader at the front at all of the key sections. When Cancellara pulled away from Sagan with such ease at Harelbeke it was easy to assume that the Swiss rider simply had better legs but the climb of the Oude Kwaremont only told half the picture as Sagan had expended too much energy up until that point attempting to chase from positions he should never have been in.

A lot of pros mark the climbs of the Classics on their stems but the bergs themselves are the window dressing of the classics – the crucial sections might be 6km away from a climb, or a descent with a tricky narrow right turn. Put Andreas Klier in a good mood and he’ll be able to measure when and where you need to be at the front of the race by simply looking at a house on the side of the road, such is his vast knowledge of the routes.

Sagan has raw talent and while that will be enough to dig him out of a hole in 90 per cent of racing situations, but as Cancellara demonstrated at E3, talent isn’t always enough. If Sagan is to win Flanders, then he needs to plan the race thoroughly and not just rely on his legs.

Flecha’s and Vacansoleil’s final chance

Vacansoleil have been sponsoring a team in the highest echelons of the sport since 2009 but results have been scarce on the ground in major races. Ask yourself how many memorable moments they’ve provided in the sport and you’ll probably come up with Thomas De Gendt’s win on the Stelvio, or Bobbie Traksel’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne win, and perhaps even Johnny Hoogerland’s crash in the 2011 Tour. Not exactly a reel of epic highlights is it?

With the team’s latest ticking time bomb, José Rujano, dodging questions, the pressure is on to find a result this spring. De Gendt popped up with a stage win in Catalunya but the main focus at this time of year is on the cobbles of Belgium and France. Unfortunately for Vacansoleil, they only have Juan Antonio Flecha to look to, a 35-year-old who has won two individual races – one of them was the overall in the Circuit Franco-Belge – since the start of 2007. At least the Spaniard looks competitive after an aggressive ride in Gent-Wevelgem, but after Sky lost patience with him last season it’s hard to see how he can deliver the result his new management so sorely needs.

Cancellara in cruise control

Retiring from Gent-Wevelgem was purely tactical and a sign that Cancellara now has his attention completely trained on securing his second Tour of Flanders crown. After a disappointing 2012, it was perhaps easy to write off the Swiss rider. With his time trialling crown already on the head of Tony Martin it seemed only a matter of time before the one-day reputation also started to fade. Sagan, Moser, even Ciolek to a small degree, suggested that a new generation were taking over.

However, Cancellara has rebounded this season and arguably put in his best performance for two years with his win at E3 Harelbeke. It’s also arguable that the rest of the field and especially Boonen and Quickstep have taken a step back this season rather than Cancellara improving by any great margin, but he’s now the rider to beat for both upcoming Monuments and holds a slight advantage over Sagan.

Garmin out

Two years ago Garmin’s management talked about becoming the world number team and with a raft of reinforcements from Cervélo the project looked feasible. Heinrich Haussler, Thor Hushovd, Andreas Klier, Brett Lancaster, Daniel Lloyd, Roger Hammond and Gabriel Rasch all moved from a bankrupt squad and the Classics juggernaut took shape. It was Johan Vansummeren who saved the team’s blushes that year and Sep Vanmarcke repeated the trick last time, but the team are desperately short of options with Vansummeren their lone finisher at Gent-Wevelgem. Only Klier, set to retire this spring remains from the class of Cervélo, while Martijn Maaskant and Tyler Farrar look short of fitness and confidence while the signings of Sebastien Rosseler and Nick Nuyens look like wasted money. Ramunas Navardauskas, who has been thought of highly since turning professional, could be their best hope.

Sky’s amiss

Top ten finishes in Milan-San Remo, Dwars Door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem show Sky’s level of consistency in one-day races but with just one podium to show for their efforts, they’re yet to transform their stage racing dominance to the classics arena. Experience on the road doesn’t seem to be the issue with Mat Hayman and Bernhard Eisel both veterans and with Servais Knaven and Kurt Asle Arvesen in the car the team should be producing more for their efforts. Rod Ellingworth made that clear to his riders after E3 when he told Cyclingnews that merely being up there wasn’t good enough, but part of the issue lies in the fact that the team can’t decide on who their best rider is. It’s almost unforgivable given their budget that Astana can outthink and outrank them with podium places for Borut Bozic at Dwars Door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem. That old British mentality of simply ‘getting stuck in’ and ‘having a go’ rarely wins races.

It’s hard to fault Sky’s tactics in Gent-Wevelgem, they simply had the wrong rider in the break, but a genuine question needs to be asked as to why Boasson Hagen cannot perform in the spring classics. Four years ago he romped away to a win in Wevelgem and it was supposed to set the tone for the coming years with any number of commentators and former riders within reach of a microphone or keyboard likening him to the Cannibal.

Boasson Hagen remains a supreme talent on the bike but whether he’s racing too much or he’s simply not had the rub of green needs to be addressed.

BMC moving closer

Third places in E3 and Gent-Wevelgem represent a consistent return for the American team and a step in the right direction ahead of Flanders. The fact that it was Oss and Van Avermaet who netted the podiums, while Gilbert and Hushovd looked undercooked shouldn’t be of major concern as the team have depth and options. Gilbert looks to be improving with every race and although he has the rainbow bands across his chest he won’t be under the microscope as much as Cancellara and Sagan come the morning of Flanders. Hushovd’s position looks more precarious, given that he was signed to co-lead in the Classics and his best result in two seasons is 14th place in the 2012 Paris-Roubaix.
 

StopHammerTime More than 1 year ago
I think I'd put more trust in Björn Leukemans than I would Flecha over the next two weeks if I were Vacansoleil.
Pete Underdown More than 1 year ago
Flanders will be dominated by Sagan and Cancellara. For each, the presence of the other dilutes the disadvantage of being the heavy favorite. Radio Shack and Cannondale ought to collaborate for the first 3/4 of it, and after that there will only be two likely ways it can end. Either Cancellara rides away, or Sagan sticks with him and comes around 10 meters fron the line doing a no-hands wheelie.
ellenbrook2001 More than 1 year ago
SAGAN have no respect for the others the soon CANCELARA go he has the others too help cause he know in the sprint he can win grrrrrrrrrr poor attitude SAGAN hes not welcome in the peloton soon no one will do any work for him then the way he did celebrated with hes bike was very poor if he did that in AUSTRALIA the commissar's would sanction him what he think hes??? it that the attitude of peoples on hes country?????????????
TheStaz More than 1 year ago
Are you using Google Translate?
observer More than 1 year ago
why should Sagan have their respect? what have the others done to earn it, he wipes the floor with them every time he tries. In Australia, there was a guy named Robbie Mc Ewen who used to pull wheelies all the time, it was his trademark, and I gather that he is very well respected in the peleton as well as in Australia.
devlin More than 1 year ago
Commisaires woudl sanction a victory slaute in Australia as well. So what's your point? We need characters in cycling. The previous years of robots was boring. There is no disrespect from Sagan towrads others. He obviously enjoys riding his bike and winning. If the others were winning they could do the same thing if they had time.
devlin More than 1 year ago
Agh. Need to proof read.
StopHammerTime More than 1 year ago
I'm thinking more along the lines of the lucky passenger aboard the Cancellara/Sagan train. Just like Simon Gerrans and Gerald Ciolek at the last two Milan San Remo's or Nick Nuyens two years ago in Flanders. Whoever can make the front group might get a free ride to the finish while Sagan and Cancellara mark each others attacks.
Pete Underdown More than 1 year ago
I don't see the possibility of anyone else having both the strength and the speed to be with Sagan at the finish and then to win the sprint. Only an in-form Boonen has ever had the class to compete for victory with Sagan and Cancellara in the form they are both showing. And Boonen is nowhere near that form right now. Flanders is a much harder race than MSR. There are plenty of riders who have a chance to be at the front in the finale, if they help Sagan keep Cancellara from disappearing up the road. But none of them (unless Boonen magically recovers) has a snowball's chance in hell of beating Sagan in the sprint. Personally I'm betting on Cancellara in arepeat of 2010, but with Sagan in the r ole of Boonen. When C goes on theOude Kwaremont, no one will help him.
KnightBiker More than 1 year ago
Phoe this article is a bad piece of commentating and throwing in open doors, but missing all the nuances and outsiders. Omega-Quickstep has more then Boonen and chavanel: Stijn van den Bergh might well pull a stunt that will deliver his team the win. okay he won't win himself but he's on fire and might deliver Chavanel or terpstra on the finish line. Nikki Terpstra hasn't been seen much except in dwars door vlaanderen but has the class to be very close to the win. (see last years campaign) Vacansoleil has Bjorn whom we haven't seen much of yet but he's been a consistent performer in the classics last years, don't right him of just yet, or at least mention him. (bert jan lindeman might be a nice bet for a long break) Blanco is a fiasco until now and wil probably only surface after paris roubaix, Lars Boom is showing a weird curve in form wining twice in the early season, and now making the break but washing out just as easliy. it seems he can ride fast but hasn't got stamina for a classic. Katusha has a man on form with Paolini also. Note that the extreem cold of last weeks might have hold a few riders back, if the temperatures go up i expect some riders rebouncing
BobAli More than 1 year ago
I thought Sagan struggled at E3 due to a bike change about 10km before Cancellara's attack and did well to get into the chase group because of this rather than poor positioning. But I could be wrong of course...
ceramiccyclist More than 1 year ago
I don't know where the writer gets the idea that Sky 'lost patience' with Flecha. He got them their first semi-classic win at Het Nieuwsblad. It was more of a case of they were prioritising younger talent and Juan was performing a team role at the classics the last couple of years. Hence his move to a smaller team. In fairness to Sagan at E3, his bad positioning was down to having just got back on after a mechanical rather than bad race craft.
ellenbrook2001 More than 1 year ago
if CHAVANEL has more support sure he would win a big one but he had too so so much work for hes leader then he still here at the end good for you mate
BarkingOwl More than 1 year ago
Boassen Hagen always seems to be in form in June/July (stage wins in Dauphine, superdomestique at the Tour) and ends the season strong (GP Ouest-France, 2nd at Worlds) but can't crack it in the spring. Perhaps Sky need to rethink his preparation
Steveo More than 1 year ago
I'd love to see Chavanel win. He's always the sacrificial lamb with nothing left if things go wrong for the leaders. He's already done so much work. If Tom isn't on top form, I'd love to see him do the work up the road and Sylvain get the win he deserves.
Pete Underdown More than 1 year ago
Big Chavanel fan here also. But this will not be his day to win. If given team support he could well score another second place. Sagan and Cancellara in world-beating form have all the tactical scenarios covered. If people try (!) to cover Cancellara's attacks, even if they latch on they will only be doing Sagan's work for him, because Cance will sit up (and try again later).

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