Fabian Cancellara and the truths of cobbled racing

After E3 Harelbeke, I pointed out that the first step to winning a cobbled race was: ‘Somehow get rid of Fabian Cancellara’. At the Tour of Flanders, no-one managed this.

In fact, the final moments highlighted many of the truths of racing on the cobbles. Three of the four riders in the front group were Belgian, each of those three was a ‘Van’, one was from Omega Pharma – Quick Step and Greg Van Avermaet didn’t win.

Poor Greg Van Avermaet

Earlier in the year, I described him as a rider who likes to finish fourth. But he’s gone up a notch. Second across the line yesterday, he was runner-up behind Ian Stannard in the Omloop as well.

Today’s effort saw Greg do about 30-odd kilometres out ahead of the favourites with Stijn Vandenbergh sitting behind him like a lazy trailer. He couldn’t hold off Fabian Cancellara though. The big Swiss shed almost all the other favourites over the two final climbs and did so with an ease you or I might reserve for brushing a speck of dust off our shoulder. The one survivor was Sep Vanmarcke, who, like Vandenbergh, affixed himself to the towbar in front of him and refused to uncouple.

The finish

These four riders were not to be caught and they even had time to almost come to a standstill within the final kilometre with no-one keen to be first to go for the line. Cancellara eventually made the decision and no-one could pass him.

It was Cancellara’s second Tour of Flanders win in a row and his third in all, which puts him level with Tom Boonen and a bunch of others as the most successful rider in the race’s history. It was also his 11th podium position in a row in the monuments that he has started.

Where was everyone else?

Tom Boonen was seventh. He wasn’t far off the pace though, so don’t discount him for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. As for Geraint Thomas, in my preview I said he’d crash, and indeed he did, but he still managed eighth.

“I was having a drink, everyone slammed on and I hit a central reservation and landed on my face about 50km in. It proper shook me up. It’s really frustrating, because I pulled something in my back and I just felt terrible all day.”

As for Bradley Wiggins, I was dismissive of his chances, but considering he’s not especially suited to this race, he performed pretty well. He wasn’t really a protagonist, but he wasn’t far behind. He appeared surprisingly frequently at the back of groups containing the favourites, until it all kicked off again and he was left behind. He finished 32nd, 1m43s down.

Being as Paris-Roubaix is flatter, Wiggins might fare better in that race and he could even appear in the foreground of the TV coverage rather than out of focus in the background, glimpsed in a momentary gap between Filippo Pozzato and Zdenek Stybar.

What’s next?

Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. The one race in the year when the power part of power-to-weight ratios is perhaps most important.