Fabian Cancellara’s onslaught in the finale of the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke caused a lot of damage, and at the finish line in Harelbeke, Cyclingnews spoke with riders who witnessed Cancellara’s show of brute force firsthand.
After recovering from several technical bike problems, Cancellara surged forward for the first time on the Kruisberg, with 50km to go. At that moment he was still marked by riders such as world champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo), Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM), Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) and Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
Eight kilometres later, Hushovd's acceleration on the Paterberg didn't put Cancellara in any real difficulty and on the following Oude Kwaremont, Cancellara showed all his rivals that they would have to be in top form to beat him in the Tour of Flanders next Sunday.
Lars Boom (Rabobank) was riding within reach of Cancellara on the Oude Kwaremont when the latter accelerated. “I reacted too late. I came back to about 50m, but that was it. When he attacked, I couldn't react. [Nick] Nuyens got dropped by him too,” Boom told Cyclingnews.
Less than 20km later, Cancellara was in the lead group. Fourteen other riders were weighing up their chances as they headed towards the final climb of the race, the 1400m long Tiegemberg. Bram Tankink (Rabobank) attacked in the crosswinds just before the climb, and he got a small gap on the group. Then Cancellara upped the pace in front of the group and he simply blew Vladimir Gusev (Katusha) and Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Cervélo) off his wheel.
“It's unbelievable. It's not normal... I mean, it's impossible to beat him,” Vanmarcke said.
Cancellara quickly joined Tankink but when the latter tried to follow his body simply refused. “I anticipated Cancellara's attack but I had cramps so I slowed down to make it go away. Then Cancellara came and the cramps immediately returned,” Tankink said.
From that point, with 18km to go, no other rider saw Cancellara again before he crossed the finish line, where he celebrated his second successive win in the E3 Harelbeke.