Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing defended his Tour of Flanders title in a pulsating final sprint to beat Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Sep Vanmarke (Belkin) to the line.
The Swiss rider attacked with Sep Vanmarcke on the final ascent of the Kwaremont and joined forces with Van Avermaet and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) who had slipped clear earlier in the race.
The foursome held off a chase from Cannondale and Omega Pharma – Quick-Step with Alexander Kristoff leading home the rest of the field in fifth place. For all their dominance earlier in the race Patrick Lefevere’s team were forced to settle for three riders inside the top ten and Stijn Vandenbergh in fourth.
There was no doubting that this was Cancellara’s day with the Trek leader producing arguably his most complete performance to win his third Flanders crown. This may have lacked a long, lone solo attack but his race winning canvas was covered in masterstrokes; all of which were set against an uncertain background as his team lost both Stijn Devolder and Yaroslav Popovych through crashes.
His first real foray came on the Kwaremont, where he sailed clear with and eager Vanmarcke. The pair linked up on the penultimate climb, setting QuickStep’s plans alight in a move that also distanced Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Even an attack from Vanmarcke on the Paterberg couldn’t ruffle Cancellara’s feathers and on the Paterberg the duo reeled in a tiring Vandenbergh before setting their sights on Van Avermaet. The BMC rider was unquestionably the most aggressive rider in the race but when the four linked up inside the final run to the finish in Oudenaarde, Cancellara once again let his experience tell.
Vandenbergh was the first to attack from the leading group, having sat on for most of the day’s ride with Van Avermaet, but when the BMC rider countered Cancellara feigned exhaustion and ushered Vanmarcke to the front to chase down the two leaders.
Inside the finale kilometre, Cancellara appeared to draw away from the rest of the group. It gave him enough room, and enough time, to launch his sprint at the perfect moment.
New course, same magic
Big crowds welcomed the riders in Bruges for the start of the 98th Tour of Flanders. Rain showers also welcomed the riders and during most of the first hour the riders were treated to a spring soaking. Only when approaching Heule, town of the Ronde 2014, did a breakaway manage to distance the peloton. Eleven riders featured in front with Taylor Phinney (BMC) being the biggest name among them.
While the large group quickly collected a lead of four minutes, crashes scared the peloton. Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) and Johan Le Bon (FDJ.fr) were the first casualties and a little later Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) rode into an elderly woman who stood on a traffic island in Wielsbeke. After the horrible crash both Vansummeren and the woman were brought to the hospital in bad condition.
Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) also crashed but continued the race. Meanwhile, the lead group kept the pace high and when riding through Oudenaarde for the first time the gap was six minutes.
To the Oude Kwaremont
As the race tackled the first climbs, the gap of the lead group came back down. After the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont the gap was five minutes. After three climbs, when approaching the 2650m pavé stretch of Kerkgate the bad luck for the Lotto-Belisol continued with their leader Jürgen Roelandts crashing out of the race.
On the descent of the Molenberg, and the peloton approached the Paddestraat there was another major crash. One rider slipped away in a left-hand corner and soon several riders were going down including Luca Paolini and former double winner Stijn Devolder. The peloton was split in two parts. On the Paddestraat, Omega Pharma – QuickStep put seven men on the front.
The crashes kept on coming. Popovych hooked into the clothing of a fan and went down hard, and on the wide roads towards the cobbles of the Haaghoek the second group with Devolder and Pozzato managed to come back to the front. Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) crashed at a bus stop platform to compound Lotto’s problems.
At the beautiful cobbles of the Haaghoek there were seven leaders left in front with Phinney, Romain Zingle (Cofidis), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Stig Broeckx (Lotto-Belisol), Aliaksander Kuchynski (Katusha), James Vanlandschoot (Wanty-Groupe Robert) and Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) all clear. The peloton hit the cobbles three minutes later, still being led by Boonen’s troops.
The action explodes
When moving on towards the Kanarieberg – the ninth climb of the day – the speed in the peloton increased and the leaders were no more than two minutes clear. On the Kanarieberg Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) and Manuel Quinziato (BMC) attacked with Bernhard Eisel (Sky) managing to latch on.
At the foot of the 2.2km long Oude Kwaremont only Impey, Broeckx and Phinney had survived from the initial break.
Yet another crash occurred in the peloton when BMC-riders switched wheels. Stijn Devolder hit the deck again, along with four riders from Tinkoff-Saxo.
The situation after the Paterberg – just before the Koppenberg – saw Impey, Phinney and Broeckx with just over half a minute on a group of about forty riders. Belkin and QuickStep led this group to the tough cobbled Koppenberg climb. A second group with Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) followed; with a third group containing Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) at nearly a minute.
Impey led the race over the Koppenberg with a small gap over Terpstra, Boonen, Cancellara, Sagan, Vanmarcke, Geraint Thomas (Sky), John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Stybar, Vandenbergh and only a few others which formed a lead group of about twenty riders.
On the cobbles of the Mariaborrestraat and Steenbeekdries the second group came back but in the meantime Stijn Vandenbergh, Dries Devenyns (Giant-Shimano) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) snuck away.
On the Taaienberg, Boasson Hagen and Devenyns dropped Vandenbergh. The two leaders had a handful of seconds on a star-studded group featuring Sagan, Cancellara, Boonen, Vandenbergh, Stybar, Terpstra, Degenkolb, Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet, Björn Leukemans (Wanty – Groupe Gobert) and Sébastien Minard (AG2R La Mondiale).
At 33km from the finish the duo were caught back and thirteen riders were leading. Devenyns attacked again, and soon after Van Avermaet tried his luck and broke clear with Vandenbergh on his wheel. Nobody in the lead group wanted to chase the leaders down and the pace dropped.
Sagan led the favourites-group over the cobbles as Degenkolb began to lose contact. Cancellara took over shortly after the cobbles which clearly hurt many riders. In front Van Avermaet received no support from Vandenbergh but still the duo gained half a minute on the favourites group as Vanmarcke attacked without success.
Omega lose their grip
At twenty kilometres from the finish the race turned on its head, first as Paolini and little later a large group with Pozzato, Thomas, Wiggins and others bridged back up with the favourites. When approaching the third ascent of the Oude Kwaremont the two leaders had 25 seconds on Leukemans and 45 seconds on the peloton.
Halfway up the climb, with Omega Pharma scattered and Sagan lacking punch, Cancellara began to stamp his authority on the race. The rest would have to fall in line.
CONTENT from cyclingnews.com April 6 2014