Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) may have come away without the win in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, but his team boss Brian Nygaard still believes he was the strongest rider and backed the former champion to bounce back at Paris-Roubaix.
Cancellara finished on the podium, taking third in a close sprint between winner Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and himself.
However he’d broken the race apart with a characteristically strong attack on the Valkenberg. He built up a minute’s lead before a floundering peloton regrouped with BMC at the head of affairs, and Cancellara was caught on the Muur.
Dropped on the Bosberg he fought back and forged the winning move with Nuyens and Chavanel.
Nygaard, who watched the final few kilometres amongst the press on the finish line pleased with his team leader’s performance and credited Nuyens on his triumph.
"It’s been by far the most amazing Tour of Flanders I’ve ever witnessed as a spectator. Some cards were played early on and a few teams were caught behind when Fabian attacked, but the gap clearly wasn’t big enough when they hit the bottom of the Muur. It was a breathtaking finale though. Amazing bike racing.
"Big credit to Nuyens for this ride, the way he kept cool and saved hid energy for the final," he told Cyclingnews.
It had looked as though Cancellara would romp away with the win in a similar fashion to last year and his win in E3 last weekend, and much of the press room fell silent once the gap began to build. Nygaard agreed that he too thought that the win was a likely outcome but changed his mind once the chase began to organise behind.
"It looked like it for a while, but the key moment was when BMC got themselves organised like they did. A lot of other teams were able to save energy there but for me the most amazing aspect was how much racing there was after the Bosberg, even in the last couple of kilometres."
Cancellara came into the race as the red hot favourite after his performance in E3 and many teams and opposition riders had talked about they would nullify him.
"They’ve not exactly been cagey about that. Everyone said there was only one way to beat him and it was clear that Chavanel wasn’t going to work as he had to defend Boonen’s interest behind. They rode wisely and Fabian couldn’t do anything but attack hard and he did that. If he’d attacked later he might not have got away. Hindsight isn’t really worth much and I still think he made an amazing race, especially still having the legs and the guts to go for the podium. I would still stay he was the strongest rider on the day."
Cancellara must now dust himself off and focus ahead for his defence at Paris-Roubaix. Although he missed out on the win today he will still line up at the start in Compiègne as the favourite, although a slightly more human and beatable one.
"Every Classic is raced differently and he might not have won today but there’s no doubt that he’s still super strong at the moment. If anything he’ll still have that form on Sunday.
"He was clearly feeling really, really good and he managed to fend off Boonen who was supposedly his main rival, so in that sense it worked out pretty well but other teams got organised in the back.
"Not being such a strong favourite, that might do him a favour," Nygaard added.
"But there are a lot of teams that have go to out there and prove themselves still. Fabian has been up there in every single Classic so far.