“The first time we saw Nuyens was in the final break. Until then we’d not taken a single photo,” said one photographer after the race, which said everything about his tactically impressive display. Distanced on the Kwaremont with Stijn Devolder, he regained contact and managed to keep out of trouble, placing just behind the likes of Boonen, Gilbert and Cancellara on most of the climbs, while also letting them slug it out to no avail on a series of energy sapping hellingen.
He was by no means the strongest rider – and we didn’t even have him in our top ten contenders beforehand, in spite of his recent Dwars Door Vlaanderen victory – but Nuyens has finally arrived, delivering the big win all of Belgium had been expecting from him.
He only arrived in Belgium on the eve of Flanders, but Riis comes away from the weekend with his reputation as one of the smartest directors enhanced. He’ll always have his detractors, for obvious reasons, but for the second year in a row and with a much weaker team, he again comes away holding up the arm of the champion. After the exodus to Leopard Trek, Riis will have taken immense satisfaction in beating Cancellara and Nygaard - although he’ll perhaps never say it publicly.
His frustration at the end as he banged his bars was understandable and second place was little consolation for a performance that had the press room in Meerbeke swooning.
In the cold light of day he’ll feel worse than Cancellara, despite finishing one place higher, because unlike the defeated champion, Chavanel may never have a better chance at winning a Classic.
Immense all day long, spending far more time off the front than Cancellara and covering every move that mattered, he was Quick Step’s strongest rider, and if Wilfred Peters had made the call for Boonen to work for Chavanel, the result could have been different. We’ve said before that Quick Step are slow to take the initiative and profit from opportunities, and Sunday was a perfect example.
The number one favourite cut a desolate figure at the finish. Unable to talk for several minutes after he crossed the line, Cancellara then had to watch as Nuyens talked to the Belgian press in the television studio, while the Swiss rider waited in the wings. Off camera you could sense the realisation wash over him as the day’s dramatic events registered.
However, Cancellara deserves much credit for his performance and his gracious post-race analysis in which he praised Nuyens and Chavanel. Clearly not as strong as last year, he still took the race to everyone and it took a monumental effort from BMC to bring him back.
The only criticism can be levelled at his need to do everything too soon. Clearly the strongest rider in the race, the initial attack that brought him to Boom and Boasson Hagen – with Boonen in tow – should have been the launching pad for a move later in the race. Flanders is a race won in phases, so building a healthy lead with riders of the calibre of Boom would have given him a platform from which to attack later in the race.
Staf Scheirlinckx and Veranda's Willems – Accent
Scheirlinckx, a 32-year-old journeyman, showed up a clutch of big teams and riders at Flanders with a hugely impressive top ten performance. With little in the way of support, he raced intelligently and although he hardly stuck his neck out for glory, his performance put the likes of Garmin, Liquigas, Katusha and Radioshack to shame.
The Belgian stepped down from ProTour level for this season and a top ten for Veranda’s Willems is a huge result.
In only his second ever Flanders, Thomas showed that his second place in Dwars door Vlaaderen was no fluke and that he’s a rider who could one day win Flanders.
The most complete team in the Classics? It certainly looked that way on Sunday when six of their riders swarmed to the front and brought back Cancellara and Chavanel. In Ballan, Hincapie and Van Avermaet they have considerable firepower but it was their collective brawn as well as their desire to make a race of it that stood out in Flanders.
And to that extent Garmin are everything BMC aren’t. Last week Gerard Vroomen took exception to the fact that we placed his team within the losers section after Gent-Wevelgem and E3, but it’s hard for him to defend the team’s tag after what was their worst display in 2011. In Farrar, Hushovd and Haussler they possess strength and quality, but once again it was left to Farrar to paper over the cracks within the team.
Quite why Garmin are off the pace might baffle some, but what’s clear is that the team lack confidence and perhaps even leadership off the road. Matt White’s dismissal has been filled by Peter Van Petegem, but for all his success as a rider he lacks the Australian’s charisma and skills. On the road, their best-laid plans were simply blown away by the fact that they weren’t strong enough and with Roubaix less than a week away it’s hard to see how they can come back.
Vaughters closed this video saying the team will head to the Roubaix velodrome as underdogs, and that position of familiarity in the Classics might be just what they need.
Quite what happened to Liquigas is a mystery. Strong in Gent-Wevelgem we marked their youngsters out as a team to watch in Flanders, but they obviously didn’t read the script. Sagan failed to finish, with Koren in 95th place their best-placed rider.
From bad to worse for Pippo at Flanders, who simply didn’t have the legs this weekend. It appears that the Italian isn’t just facing tough opposition out on the road either with internal friction between him and Andrei Tchmil reportedly almost reaching boiling point. He’s suggested that the team have given up on him and by all accounts he could be off to GEOX in 2012. Roubaix still awaits and the Italian, who has performed there in the past, will be looking to rescue his year.
Were we really expecting anything else from him?