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The sun shines for the Swiss champion in Flanders

By:
Brecht Decaluwé

Cancellara out-powers Boonen on the Kapelmuur

The skies may have been dark everywhere else in Belgium, but a ray of light shone on Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) as he rode to the victory in the Tour of Flanders. The world time trial champion showed his huge power advantage by dropping Tom Boonen (Quick Step) on the Kapelmuur climb and then riding away to glory with more than a minute's lead by the line.

Flashing his lucky charm for the camera as he pulled into Meerbeke en route to his the third Monument victory, the Swiss champion, who won Paris-Roubaix in 2006 and Milan-San Remo in 2008, had ample time to celebrate with team director Bjarne Riis and grab a Swiss flag from the fans to wave as he crossed the line.

Boonen and Cancellara broke free of the lead group on the Molenberg more than 40km before the finish, and thanks to a strong tailwind were able to distance a group of chasers which was whittled down to Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) by the top of the Kapelmuur.

Cancellara chose the steepest part of the climb to put in a bid to drop Boonen, and the effort was a success. By the famous chapel at the top of the climb in Geraardsbergen, the Swiss had a dozen seconds on the fading Belgian champion. With his world-renowned time trialing abilities, Cancellara steadily added time to his lead in the final 20km. Boonen came across the line, head bowed, in second place 1:14 later. Gilbert easily out-sprinted Leukemans to claim the final podium spot, while not far behind Americans Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) and George Hincapie (BMC) were fastest in the bunch sprint.

"It wasn't easy knowing I was the favourite but that was more of a weight on my shoulders in the build-up to the race rather than today," Cancellara said immediately after winning.

"I suppose it was a perfect race. Even my attacks were perfectly timed. Going on the Molenberg was the right moment and then I had to try on the Muur because that's where the legend and history of this race are made. When I realised I'd dropped Boonen it was like having wings on my feet and kept going all the way to the finish."

"Winning big races like this isn't easy and I have to thank my family and my team for the support they always give me. My next objective? There are still two monuments I haven't won…."

Boonen admitted that he was up against a tough rival today, but said things will be different next Sunday in Paris-Roubaix.

"Battling up against Fabian as a team is ideal. I'm already happy that I was able to keep up with him. I don't fear him. I've got a simple plan. If he goes I have to stay with him. You can't give him a few meters or he's gone," Boonen said after the race.

"Cancellara and I started co-operating without saying a word. It was a beautiful race. I liked the new course a lot. In the past riders were able to come back and attack, but now that was impossible. The Molenberg didn't make the difference. It's the part just before and after the Molenberg that makes it very hard."

It was Boonen's third runner-up finish after Milan-San Remo and the E3 Prijs, but the Belgian champion had a positive view on his latest result. "It makes me the best regular rider of the peloton."

A fast start from Brugge

The first attacks of the race were launched right after leaving Brugge. The first five riders to get a gap over the peloton were Michele Merlo, Nicolas Rousseau, Joost van Leijen, Floris Goesinnen, and veteran José Vicente Garcia Acosta. When arriving at the coast after half an hour of racing the five had a gap of one minute over the peloton. Three riders then made a counter-attack, with Olivier Bonnaire, Mikhail Ignatiev and natural attacker David Boucher setting off in pursuit of the five.

After sixty kilometres of early racing the three chasers bridged up with the leaders, creating an eight-man leader's group. The peloton let them go and were soon thirteen minutes behind them, with Quick Step, Team Sky, Saxo Bank and Astana all helped controlled the gap.

On the first climb called Den Ast, the gap had dropped below the ten minutes. The speed increased in the peloton as the roads were getting more technical and narrow. Several crashes occurred and ruined several riders' chances, although no favourites were included. However Lars Boom and Sergey Ivanov were caught behind and had to work hard to get back to the peloton, using a lot of energy to get back near the front of the peloton where Saxo Bank was driving the pace.

When the race reached the Kluisberg, the second climb of the day, the huge gap had fallen to just four minutes and the race between the big teams was on.

Saxo Bank controlled the peloton, with eight men on front of the peloton. Saxo Bank put the hammer down as the race headed towards the first real testing climb, the Oude Kwaremont. Again, the peloton split apart, with about hundred riders were in the first peloton that trailed the leaders by two minutes.

After the Oude Kwaremont there were only four leaders left from the early break: Van Leijen, Garcia Acosta, Goesinnen and Ignatiev. In the peloton Stuart O'Grady led the group at a steady pace over the 2200 metre-long cobbled stretch. Once again, the peloton reduced in number, with Stijn Devolder being the most important absentee.

The first selection on the Paterberg

On the Paterberg climb, with 80km to go, Matti Breschel upped the pace and this time the favorites had to move. Only nine men survived this selection, indicating what would happen later in the race. Breschel, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, Lars Boom, Juan Antonio Flecha, George Hincapie, Steve Chainel, Leif Hoste and Thor Hushovd were all there.

The rest of the peloton wasn't too far away and got back just before tackling the Koppenberg but then the pace went up yet again. Breschel and Boonen impressed on the famous cobbled climb. Cyclo-cross rider Chainel had to stop and put his foot down, blocking other riders and forcing him to run up the climb on the 22% part of the Koppenberg.

Up front Garcia Acosta got dropped and the three remaining leaders had about forty seconds on a leading peloton of about forty riders that also including Lance Armstrong. There was no organisation in the peloton and on climb eight, the Taaienberg, several riders managed to bridge back up to the first peloton, including Devolder and Sergey Ivanov. This was the quiet before the decisive attacks.

On the next climb, the Eikenberg, 60km kilometres from the finish, Team Sky closed the gap on Ignatiev, Goesinnen and Van Leijen. Behind the Saxo Bank team had a scare as both Cancellara and Breschel were forced to switch bikes. For Breschel the mechanic couldn't seem to find the right bike and the Danish champion lost a lot of time and was forced to chase amongst the long line of team cars. The problem definitely compromised his race.

The door swings open on the Molenberg

Due to the hesitations in the peloton Mathew Hayman sneaked away and on the cobbles and for a moment, it was Armstrong who led the chase. Then before the important Molenberg climb, with 45km to go, Bernhard Eisel, Daniel Oss, Matthew Lloyd and Maarten Wynants carved out a small gap but they were no match when Cancellara and Boonen blasted past them near the summit. It was the key moment of the race.

Boonen and Cancellara quickly opened a gap of fifteen seconds on a group with Flecha, who narrowly missed the attack. On a crosswind section Philippe Gilbert blew the chase group apart but was marked by Bjorn Leukemans, Hoogerland, Chainel, Hoste, David Millar, Sebastian Langeveld, Hincapie, Iglinsky, Flecha and the Quick Step duo Wynants and Devolder who neutralized the attacks.

Meanwhile Boonen and Cancellara were sharing pulls in front, opening a gap of half a minute. Millar attacked the chase group after climbing the Leberg but the Brit didn't get any closer on the leading duo. On the Berendries climb he received help from Gilbert and Leukemans who had left the rest of the original chase group behind but even the trio failed to get close to Boonen and Cancellara.

With less than thirty kilometers the race seemed to be between Boonen and Cancellara, with Millar, Gilbert and Leukemans at fifty seconds, and a nine-man chasing group with Devolder, Wynants, Langeveld, Iglinsky, Flecha, Chainel, Hoogerland, Hincapie and Hoste at little over a minute. On the thirteenth climb, the Tenbosse, the leaders had 54 seconds on the three chasers and 1'20" on the other chasers.

A moment in time and one good line...

At the foot of the famous Muur in Geraardsbergen the gap for the leaders was down to 43" but everything seemed to be under control for the Belgian and Swiss national champion. The Kapelmuur would see the shown down between the two.

Both look strong but on the last section of the Muur, Cancellara had something extra - a bit more power and a slightly better line over the cobbles - and he surged away from Boonen. Over the top of the Kapelmuur, Cancellara already had a gap over ten seconds and Boonen seemed to have thrown in the towel.

He tried to chase but lost time all the way to the finish. Cancellara used his time trialing skills to open a huge margin and then began celebrating as soon as he entered the long finishing straight in Merebeke. He showed a special good luck charm he had kept in his pocket and celebrated with Saxo Bank team Bjarne Riis manager in the team car. He then collected a Swiss flag before slowly rolling over the line in celebration. Despite racing for 262km and over six hours, he hardly seemed out of breath.

Boonen also rolled home, just over a minute behind, while Philippe Gilbert beat Bjorn Leukemans to take third place.

The USA's Tyler Farrar won the sprint for fifth, with George Hincapie sixth.

Full Results
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 6:25:56  
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 0:01:15  
3 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:11  
4 Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team 0:02:15  
5 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions 0:02:35  
6 George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team    
7 Roger Hammond (GBr) Cervelo Test Team    
8 Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz) Astana    
9 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini    
10 William Bonnet (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom    
11 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team    
12 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team Katusha    
13 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
14 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
15 Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank    
16 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team HTC - Columbia    
17 Steve Chainel (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom    
18 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française Des Jeux    
19 Maarten Wynants (Bel) Quick Step    
20 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team    
21 Roy Sentjens (Bel) Team Milram    
22 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank    
23 Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia    
24 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step    
25 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step    
26 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
27 Lance Armstrong (USA) Team Radioshack    
28 Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo    
29 Leif Hoste (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto    
30 Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre-Farnese Vini    
31 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha    
32 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions    
33 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
34 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
35 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:02:48  
36 Koen De Kort (Ned) Skil - Shimano 0:05:13  
37 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne    
38 Dimitri Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack    
39 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto    
40 Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet    
41 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto    
42 Dominique Rollin (Can) Cervelo Test Team    
43 Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo    
44 Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom    
45 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team Milram    
46 Grégory Rast (Swi) Team Radioshack    
47 Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas-Doimo    
48 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo    
49 Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank    
50 Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus) Team Katusha    
51 Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française Des Jeux    
52 Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step    
53 Kurt Asle Arvesen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
54 Karsten Kroon (Ned) BMC Racing Team    
55 Johan Vansummeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions    
56 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team    
57 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team    
58 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 0:06:58  
59 Koen Barbe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet 0:10:33  
60 Bobbie Traksel (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team    
61 Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team    
62 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
63 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step 0:13:20  
64 Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Astana    
65 Javier Aramendia Lorente (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
66 Allan Davis (Aus) Astana    
67 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana    
68 Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Team HTC - Columbia    
69 Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil - Shimano    
70 Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team    
71 Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini    
72 Frédéric Amorison (Bel) Landbouwkrediet    
73 Tiziano Dall'antonia (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo    
74 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Team HTC - Columbia    
75 Hayden Roulston (NZl) Team HTC - Columbia    
76 Yoann Offredo (Fra) Française Des Jeux    
77 Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank    
78 Michael Barry (Can) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
79 Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom    
80 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step    
81 Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Team Radioshack    
82 Tom Veelers (Ned) Skil - Shimano    
83 Roy Curvers (Ned) Skil - Shimano    
84 Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
85 Gustav Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank    
86 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank    
87 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto    
88 Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Team Katusha    
89 Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
90 Martijn Maaskant (Ned) Garmin - Transitions    
91 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia    
92 Kasper Klostergaard Larsen (Den) Team Saxo Bank    
93 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team    
94 Frank Hoj (Den) Team Saxo Bank    
95 Joost Van Leijen (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team    
DNF Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Quick Step    
DNF Julien Berard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
DNF Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale    
DNF Kristof Goddaert (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale    
DNF Anthony Ravard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
DNF Nicolas Rousseau (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
DNF Scott Davis (Aus) Astana    
DNF Valeriy Dmitriyev (Kaz) Astana    
DNF Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana    
DNF Valentin Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana    
DNF Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne    
DNF Arnaud Coyot (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne    
DNF Mathieu Drujon (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne    
DNF Imanol Erviti (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne    
DNF Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Caisse d'Epargne    
DNF José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne    
DNF José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne    
DNF Andres Sergio De Lis (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
DNF Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
DNF Aitor Galdos Alonso (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
DNF Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
DNF Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
DNF Romain Sicard (Fra) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
DNF Pablo Urtasun Perez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi    
DNF Fabio Felline (Ita) Footon-Servetto    
DNF Ermanno Capelli (Ita) Footon-Servetto    
DNF Manuel Antonio Leal Cardoso (Por) Footon-Servetto    
DNF Vidal Celis Zabala (Spa) Footon-Servetto    
DNF Thomas Patrick Faiers (GBr) Footon-Servetto    
DNF Johnnie Walker (Aus) Footon-Servetto    
DNF Michele Merlo (Ita) Footon-Servetto    
DNF David Gutierrez (Spa) Footon-Servetto    
DNF Olivier Bonnaire (Fra) Française Des Jeux    
DNF Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française Des Jeux    
DNF Mikael Cherel (Fra) Française Des Jeux    
DNF Anthony Geslin (Fra) Française Des Jeux    
DNF Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Française Des Jeux    
DNF Alfredo Balloni (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini    
DNF Marcin Sapa (Pol) Lampre-Farnese Vini    
DNF Vitaliy Buts (Ukr) Lampre-Farnese Vini    
DNF Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini    
DNF Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo    
DNF Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo    
DNF Aliaksandr Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas-Doimo    
DNF Mickael Delage (Fra) Omega Pharma-Lotto    
DNF Adam Blyth (GBr) Omega Pharma-Lotto    
DNF Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto    
DNF Rick Flens (Ned) Rabobank    
DNF Thomas Leezer (Ned) Rabobank    
DNF Nick Nuyens (Bel) Rabobank    
DNF Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Rabobank    
DNF Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Professional Cycling Team    
DNF Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin - Transitions    
DNF Matthew Wilson (Aus) Garmin - Transitions    
DNF Steven Cozza (USA) Garmin - Transitions    
DNF Svein Tuft (Can) Garmin - Transitions    
DNF Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia    
DNF Martin Velits (Svk) Team HTC - Columbia    
DNF Marco Bandiera (Ita) Team Katusha    
DNF Maxime Vantomme (Bel) Team Katusha    
DNF Robbie Mcewen (Aus) Team Katusha    
DNF Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukr) Team Katusha    
DNF Wim De Vocht (Bel) Team Milram    
DNF Markus Eichler (Ger) Team Milram    
DNF Thomas Fothen (Ger) Team Milram    
DNF Servais Knaven (Ned) Team Milram    
DNF Peter Wrolich (Aut) Team Milram    
DNF Paul Voss (Ger) Team Milram    
DNF Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Team Radioshack    
DNF Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Team Radioshack    
DNF Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Team Radioshack    
DNF Sebastien Rosseler (Bel) Team Radioshack    
DNF Baden Cooke (Aus) Team Saxo Bank    
DNF Anders Lund (Den) Team Saxo Bank    
DNF Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team Saxo Bank    
DNF Mathieu Claude (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom    
DNF Yohann Gene (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom    
DNF Damien Gaudin (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom    
DNF Martin Kohler (Swi) BMC Racing Team    
DNF Jackson Stewart (USA) BMC Racing Team    
DNF Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing Team    
DNF Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Cervelo Test Team    
DNF Martin Reimer (Ger) Cervelo Test Team    
DNF Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team    
DNF Gabriel Rasch (Nor) Cervelo Test Team    
DNF David Boucher (Fra) Landbouwkrediet    
DNF Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet    
DNF Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet    
DNF Kevin Neirynck (Bel) Landbouwkrediet    
DNF Geert Verheyen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet    
DNF Mitchell Docker (Aus) Skil - Shimano    
DNF Steve Houanard (Fra) Skil - Shimano    
DNF Job Vissers (Ned) Skil - Shimano    
DNF Piet Rooijakkers (Ned) Skil - Shimano    
DNF Johan Coenen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
DNF Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
DNF Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
DNF Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
DNF Geert Steurs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
DNF Maarten Neyens (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
DNF Steven Van Vooren (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator    
DNF Wouter Mol (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team    
DNF Jens Mouris (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team