By Daniel Benson in Meerbeke, Belgium
With George Hincapie and Marcus Burghardt on the Columbia start list, team manager Bob Stapleton had at least two good reasons to be optimistic before the start of Flanders. However, despite the 25-year-old German Burghardt finishing an impressive seventh, the rest of the team were left to lick their wounds at the finish after a series of crashes wrecked their hopes of glory.
First to hit the deck was Austrian Bernhard Eisel, who crashed at the foot of the Molenberg. "He really looked bad. He was raw," said team director Rolf Aldag. "We then picked him up, but he had to change his bike. Then he realised there was a problem with his shoes and had to change them, too. It cost him valuable energy."
To make matters worse Vicente Reynes was also thrown from his bike in the same crash. "From then on we were up against it. Mark Renshaw crashed on the Koppenberg and then coming into the final 200 meters, Hincapie was brought down. It wasn't our day but they're tough guys and they'll bounce back I'm sure," said Aldag.
Hincapie had been present in the lead group on the climbs at various points in the race but was unable to follow the attacks of Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and finally Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) in the closing stages. However with a final sprint to the line for the remaining podium places, the American was squeezed in the far side and brought down in a crash involving Thor Hushovd.
"I wasn't feeling good, but I think I had a great chance in the sprint. I know exactly where to go on that straight but someone in front of me flipped over me and I had nowhere to go," said Hincapie. As he sat on the steps of the team bus the Classics veteran said he'd pick himself up for Paris-Roubaix next week and Gent-Wevelgem this Wednesday. "My family will be at Roubaix too and it's a big objective for me again."