In a predictable Ronde van Vlaanderen, there were few riders who managed to anticipate the moment when eventual winner Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Leopard) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) would unleash their strength on the Oude Kwaremont, 17km from the finish in Oudenaarde. However former Belgian champion Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) rode a clever race, sneaking away after the penultimate ascent of the Paterberg, 33km from the finish. It turned out to be an excellent tactical decision which eventually gave the 28 year-old rider a well-deserved podium spot in the 100th anniversary edition of the Ronde.
It was the first time Roelandts and his Lotto-Belisol team were able to leave their mark in the Spring Classics.
“For once the race went our way and I had no bad luck, no flat tires and nobody rode over my head. It’s the first time during this spring that I was able to show that I’ve taken a step up,” Roelandts said on Sporza radio. “Finishing third behind big guns like Cancellara and Sagan is nice. I knew before the race that those two were stronger than the rest.”
With that in mind, the Belgian team opted to break open the race as soon as possible. Tosh Van der Sande featured in the early breakaway group, then André Greipel attacked the peloton on the Molenberg and later Marcel Sieberg bridged up with the lead group. Meanwhile Roelandts stayed as calm as possible, tucked away in the peloton.
“Having some guys in the breakaway put me in a perfect position. Frederik Willems looked after me the whole day. I wanted a wide-open race and from the Molenberg on the team started attacking. I wanted to ride away before the Kwaremont but wanting is different to doing so. The legs are more decisive than the head to actually perform well. Luckily I had good legs today. After climbing the Paterberg it was the moment to go. It was partly instinctively but when you have the legs everything is much easier. I had something extra left in my legs.”
Roelandts got into a group with Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM), Yoann Offredo (FDJ), Sébastien Hinault (IAM Cycling) and Sébastien Turgot (Team Europcar) which caught up with Michael Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) before the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
“I did most of the work in front but when I heard we had half a minute on the peloton I gave all I had. It no longer made sense to wait,” he explained.
A special Kwaremont moment
During the first asphalted part of the Oude Kwaremont only Kwiatkowski and Selvaggi managed to keep up. Once on the cobbled part of the 2200m long climb, Roelandts rode solo and created a sizeable gap over his rivals. Meanwhile Cancellara and Sagan attacked the peloton and were closing the gap.
“Riding alone over the Kwaremont was one of the highlights of my career,” Roelandts stated.
At the top he still had a 15-second gap over the two favourites behind him but Roelandts decided to sit up and save some energy.
“When I saw the two riders coming up I knew straight away who they were. I tried to recover and stayed in the wheels until the Paterberg. Once there it was impressive to see how Cancellara rode away. I reached the top and could no longer saw him. The only thing I thought about was getting back on Sagan’s wheel,” Roelandts said.
He knew that holding off the small peloton behind him in the final 13km to the finish would be a hard thing on his own.
“There was a headwind towards the finish. It hurt massively. We came on the main road towards the finish and saw the group coming up behind us, they came very close. I fully co-operated with Sagan. I went 100% for the podium. By then Cancellara was already half a minute ahead of us.”
With Cancellara gone for good, second place was the best possible result left for the Belgian rider. Back in 2008, Roelandts became Belgian champion in a bunch sprint in which he held off today’s unlucky favourite Tom Boonen. This time around there was not much to do against Slovakian youngster Peter Sagan.
“I tried my best by skipping pulls but well...” Roelandts laughed, pointing out there was a big difference in speed at the finish.
Next week Roelandts will again be a man to take into account at Paris-Roubaix, as he’s able to handle the cobbles even better than the hellingen hills in Flanders.
Team manager Marc Sergeant agreed and expressed his desire for a race scenario like the one that resulted in the win for Johan Vansummeren.
“Cancellara will be the outspoken favourite. Back then that was the case too and somehow everybody rode against him. If that is the case again then a group with outsiders might go the distance again,” Sergeant said.