Fabian Cancellara’s (Leopard Trek) long-range bid for Tour of Flanders victory may have appeared to grind to a halt on the slopes of the Muur-Kapelmuur on Sunday, but L’Équipe reports that the Swiss rider was only five seconds slower on the climb than he was in the 2010 edition of the race. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was the quickest rider on the Muur this year, and his time was itself four seconds better than Cancellara's in 2010.
Last year, Cancellara delivered a stunning exhibition on the Muur, powering clear of an in-form Tom Boonen (Quick Step) near the summit and soloing to victory in Meerbeke. On Sunday, Cancellara was caught by the chase group on the lower slopes of the climb, although he still managed to put in a significant acceleration towards the top.
On reviewing television footage of the last two Tours of Flanders, L’Équipe revealed that Cancellara’s 2011 ride was close to the level of his effort from twelve months ago. The French newspaper clocked Cancellara’s ascent of the 475m that make up the Muur “proper” at 1:47 in 2010, while he rode up it in 1:52 (for an average speed of 15.2kph) in 2011.
L’Équipe’s analysis also demonstrates that Cancellara lost his lead on the preceding cobbled false flat at Vesten rather than on the Muur itself. Cancellara and his breakaway companion Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) held an advantage of 50 seconds on entering Geraardsbergen, but that had fallen to 11 seconds once the climb began in earnest a couple of kilometres later.
However, the quickest rider up the Muur on Sunday was Philippe Gilbert. It was the Belgian’s searing acceleration that brought the chasers back up to the two escapees on the Muur, and his time of approximately 1:43 (for an average speed of 16.6kph) this year was a whole four seconds quicker than Cancellara’s seemingly other-worldly performance in 2010.