By Gregor Brown in Kuurne
Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) has come into the Spring Classics season with good form after the 29 year-old Spaniard tested himself Saturday, in the 62nd Omloop Het Volk. Departing from Gent, the race travelled south and back north before finishing in Lokeren, where Flecha finished second to a very strong Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) .
He bridged to an attack by Aussie Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) in the last 20km of the race and the Spanish-Aussie duo worked to hold off an attempt by Tom Boonen (Quick Step - Innergetic) to join them. Unfortunately for the duo, Boonen was joined by a powerhouse trio of Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Pozzato and Baden Cooke (Unibet), who worked to only let the gap extend to 15 seconds.
But then the course did a U-turn into the final two kilometres, directly into a headwind on a wide open section of road, and this gave the chasers their target and opportunity to spring the final surprise. With less than 500m to the finish line, a clearly slowing Flecha and O'Grady were caught by Boonen, Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) and the eventual winner, Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas).
Do you still consider it a success, after being nabbed so close to the finish? "Yes. Also the way I raced was the way I wanted to go, so I am happy for that." "I was satisfied," Flecha said to Cyclingnews. "Yesterday was my first season goal, and I did a really nice race, so I am happy."
The duo seemed to be keeping about its business and concentrating on making it to the finale, even if their teamwork didn't look too well coordinated, with Flecha surging a little as they took turns in their breakaway. Were you two talking at all as the race neared Lokeren? "We were just talking about helping each other to arrive to the finale together," Flecha maintained.
While Flecha packs a good finish, he is hardly a match for a firing O'Grady, but the Australian was clearly running low on power when they hit that headwind and the long distance of the first big European race of the season started to take its toll. However, there was no final attack by the Spaniard, one similar to the one that almost won him the Gent-Wevelgem in 2005.
Were you thinking to rid yourself of O'Grady in the finale? "Well, It was a hard race," he concluded. "It was the first time this year for me to race 200 kilometres, so I was not really confident attacking in the finale with Stuey. And the other guys were really close behind, like by ten seconds, so there was not time to really try anything." Still, Flecha was able to respond to the sight of 'Pippo' flying past while he and O'Grady jockeyed in the final kilometre, and he had the power to hold off Boonen and take out second place.
Departing from Kuurne, Flecha went on to wrap up a solid weekend by finishing 30th in the 60th Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Expect to see him firing again in the Classics Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.