We decide the saints and sinners of the first Flemish weekend
Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
While Fabian Cancellara’s decimation of a E3 Harelbeke grabbed all the headlines and had several team bosses running to the hills in fear ahead of the Tour of Flanders, Boonen stood up when it mattered most to deliver the perfect riposte in Wevelgem.
Although his win lacked the spectacular, it was arguably a more impressive ride than Cancellara’s victory the day before. Despite facing stiffer opposition, a course that didn’t suit him and mounting pressure from his team, nation and all those who didn’t want to see Cancellara romp away with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Boonen’s delivery of victory should ensure that the Swiss rider won’t have it all his own way over the coming weeks.
On a personal note for Boonen, his win comes off the back of Patrick Lefevere publicly opening the rider’s contract negotiations in the press. The Quick Step team boss stated that if Boonen wanted an extension on his current terms, then he needed to back it up with some wins. Job done.
George Hincapie (BMC)
The American told Cyclingnews on the start line of Gent-Wevelgem that he will continue to race in 2012. While the 37-year-old is perhaps past his best he still offers any team in the world a huge amount of experience, stability and potency. His attack on Sunday suggests there’s life in the old boy too.
Having scored zero WorldTour ranking points before Gent-Wevelgem, Quick Step put all their big guns on the start line in Deinze and the tactic paid off handsomely. Gert Steegmans was immense during the race and in the lead out, Sylvain Chavanel raced with the kind of zeal he showed when back at Cofidis and Boonen even changed his tactics, scrapping his usual attack on the climbs for a perfectly timed sprint.
Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek)
The hopeful suggestions that Cancellara’s victory looked easier than it really is perhaps clutching at straws because if Spartacus is given even an inch in either Flanders or Roubaix he’ll never been seen again. His pursuit of the leading riders in E3 and his personal demolition of Garmin-Cervélo’s game plan sparked everyone in the press room to begin drafting their race reports for Flanders and there was only one winner.
Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek)
The Italian will undoubtedly be frustrated by yet another second place, but Bennati is slowly but surely developing into a serious threat in the Spring Classics. He was the only Leopard Trek rider to finish Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, while his former team Liquigas-Cannondale had a clutch of riders in the finale. Perhaps the result would have been different even with just one rider to shepherd Bennati through the final kilometres and give him a lead out in Wevelgem.
The Italian outfit were possibly the strongest team in Gent-Wevelgem, with six riders present in the final phase of the race. Peter Sagan, who was riding his first Gent-Wevelgem, is undoubtedly a future winner of the race, and he had Maciej Bodnar for company in the break that threatened to thwart the sprinters. Daniel Oss was also to the fore despite recent illness. And while Tiziano Dall'Antonia was their highest placed finisher with 14th in Wevelgem, Liquigas-Cannondale could play a huge role in the outcome of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
If you throw enough paint at the wall some of it will stick. That seems to be the best way of describing Greipel in sprints this year because for every win he takes, there is also a hatful of wasted chances and fluffed lines.
As ever it’s not his speed or power that’s questionable but his positioning. Quite why he was on Lloyd Mondory’s wheel in the sprint is a mystery that perhaps even Greipel doesn’t know the answer to.
Including HTC-Highroad amongst the losers may be a bit harsh considering that the nucleus of their team was sick but Gent-Wevelgem was possibly the team’s best chance to grab another Classic win this spring and they came up short.
Matt Goss should return to full fitness in time for the Tour of Flanders and so could in the mix. But as we pointed out a fortnight ago, the concern with the Australian is whether he simply needs a rest having been in scintillating form since January. As for Mark Cavendish, he’s certainly improving and his form is on an upward trajectory. If he can keep upright he’s the man to beat in Scheldeprijs.
Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM)
Out of sorts and out of form, the Belgian has called a press conference for this Friday and while he’ll line up at the Tour of Flanders as a rider of considerable pedigree, his chances of repeating his wins from 2008 and 2009 look a long way off.
The bar was set high when the team signed Haussler, Hushovd, Klier and co from Cervélo TestTeam to create a Classics dream team but so far their most successful ride this spring has been Tyler Farrar who backed up his podium place in Dwars door Vlaanderen with another one in Gent-Wevelgem. The team’s tactics in E3 were spot on but they were steam rolled by Cancellara. His near total indifference to the fact that Haussler was on the leading group he bridged to and then attacked, said it all.
Filippo Pozzato (Katusha)
The Italian chose to skip Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 for Gent-Wevelgem but his performance was subdued to say the least. With De Panne on his programme this week he’ll need to land a big result soon to avoid even more criticism and angry looks from Katusha team boss Andrei Tchmil.
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