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.
|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|