News feature, April 15, 2008
Team CSC entered Sunday's Paris-Roubaix with the aim of taking its third consecutive win in the famed Spring Classic. The Danish squad entered the event with a double pronged strategy and a solid line-up, but it just didn't work out right for the team.
On the one hand the outfit had defending champion Stuart O'Grady, who was hungry to defend his title and take another victory on the cobbles, following a season-ending crash at the Tour de France last July. On the other hand was Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, who claimed the team's first title at the event in 2006. Cancellara had already won Milano-Sanremo, but missed the rare Sanremo-Flanders double. The Swiss rider placed 23rd, coming home in a big group led in by Alessandro Ballan in fourth place, 21 seconds after Stijn Devolder.
O'Grady sacrificed his own hopes to set Cancellara up when he chased down an attack by Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Stijn Devolder (Quick Step). The South Australian exploded out of the front group in pursuit of the Belgian champion, in what originally looked like a race threatening move.
"There was no point in me just riding behind and doing tempo - it would have just killed me anyway," O'Grady told AFP of the move. "I thought at least if I jumped ahead then it would have put the pressure on [Silence] Lotto and Lampre to chase me down and set up Fabian for a launch.
"That worked like a charm," he added. "We certainly blew Lotto apart, and took out a few of the opponents."
Despite the strength of its entry, the team had one thing standing in the way of a three-peat: Belgium's Tom Boonen (Quick Step). While Boonen was a threat from the outset, Team CSC stayed in with a chance of victory after O'Grady's move launched Cancellara into the decisive break with Boonen and Italy's Alessandro Ballan (Lampre).
Tornado Tom won the event in 2005 and finished second to Cancellara the following year, something he didn't want to repeat in this year's race.
"Of course I'd hoped to win this one, but Tom Boonen was stronger than me once we reached the Velodrome," explained Cancellara. "I tried to drop them a couple of times on the cobble stones, but when I couldn't the only thing left to do was to wait and battle it out at the Velodrome."
Cancellara's hope of taking on a fresh Boonen in a sprint showdown at the Roubaix velodrome were dealt a severe blow when the Swiss rider's body started to cramp. The cramping prevented Cancellara from launching the sprint required to beat a former World Road Champion like Boonen, forcing him to focus on beating Ballan for second place.
"In the finale, I tried to get Fabian to attack but he told me he couldn't because of the cramps," explained sports director Scott Sunderland. "The race was five kilometres too long for him."
While O'Grady wasn't a race contender in the final wash-up, he still managed an impressive fifth place finish. Sunderland said O'Grady's form wasn't completely timed right for his compatriot to contend for victory.
"This is probably two weeks too early for Stuart," said Sunderland. "He wasn't 100 percent today, but the ride he did today was fantastic. He knew he had to be there to support Fabian and he was, and then some.
"I think he was very happy with how he was today," he added. "I think Stuart [for] the rest of this year is going to be getting better and better."
Not disappointed with outcome
While the team is naturally disappointed it didn't claim its third victory on the trot, it was nonetheless happy with its result of second and fifth for Cancellara and O'Grady respectively. In addition to the two top five placings, another two Team CSC riders finished inside the top 20, with Sweden's Marcus Ljungqvist taking 16th while Dane Matti Breschel finished in 20th spot.
"I think it was a great race and we did well, both as far as tactics and strength go," said team owner Bjarne Riis. "We were up front like we should be and even though we didn't win today, we did our absolute best and that's all anyone can ask."
O'Grady added that the squad has reason to be proud of its efforts in France. "I don't think we can be disappointed," he said. "Boonen was the strongest on the day, and that's just racing.
"When it's man against man like that then Boonen's always going to have the edge on Fabian in the sprint," he added. "We did everything we could to set up the race, attacked, made it hard and had all the boys up front. We've got to be happy with that."
Cancellara also added that it's hard to be disappointed about losing to someone of Boonen's caliber after a strong Spring campaign. Cancellara alone has had an impressive run to date, claiming victory in Milano-Sanremo, Tirreno Adriatico and Monte Paschi Eroica in addition to his Tour of California Prologue win.
"I'm not disappointed losing to a rider of his caliber and on the whole the entire team has every reason to be proud of the spring we've had," he explained. "A big thanks to my team-mates, who put me in a position where I was able to compete for the victory out there today. Everyone on the team has a share in the results we've achieved in this season so far."
Sunderland added that he's happy with the outcome, and with the team's spring campaign. "From February to Paris-Roubaix, who can do what Fabian Cancellara's just done?" the directeur sportif said. "I'm so bloody proud of these guys. They just did everything right."
Sunderland acknowledged to Cyclingnews that "Luck wasn't exactly on our side today with Marcus [Ljungqvist] crashing and a very strong Kurt [Asle Arvesen] puncturing at the worst moment, when he arrived on the Arenberg. Allan [Johansen], who was with Stuart, also crashed out off the front group. We lost two of our jokers with Marcus and Allan. Fabian started to cramp after his attack and wasn't able to recover before entering the velodrome. Against a fast Boonen there was no possible tactics. Fabian won a lot already this year, Kurt won a semi-classic... I think team CSC came out to play in all races we started in so far this season. We are satisfied."
While the 2008 event has only just been come and gone, Riis is already looking towards a third win for the outfit in 2009.
"But hey – we'll try again next year," Riis said.
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