Belgium's Tom Boonen hit out at the quitters who helped end his dreams of a record-equalling fourth title at the gruelling Paris-Roubaix one-day classic won by Fabian Cancellara on Sunday.
Boonen started the 259km epic, whose 59km of cobblestones spread over 27 sectors have made Roubaix the toughest one-day race in the world, under huge pressure after a string of runner-up places this spring.
At last week's Tour of Flanders Boonen was spectacularly humbled by Cancellara, the Swiss Olympic time trial champion, who claimed his first win in the 'Ronde' with an audacious solo attack 15km from home.
And during what was billed as a Cancellara v Boonen duel on Sunday, the Swiss put his unrivalled solo power on show again surging away from a small group of favourites 50k from the finish and with 10 cobbled sectors still to race.
To his disadvantage, Boonen was sitting at the back of the group replenishing the energy he'd lost from a series of brief attacks that Cancellara later admitted had tested his will.
But for the second time in a week the Belgian was forced to admit defeat to the stronger man. For the riders in his group, Boonen had harsher words.
"I had just done some attacks of my own and was sitting at the back of the group trying to feed and keeping a check on the riders behind us," said Boonen, who won the race in 2005, 2008 and 2009. "And then Cancellara just went. But you can't argue with that. I would probably have done the same thing.
"I'm obviously disappointed. But if Cancellara attacks and I can't follow him that's fair enough. But I'm angry with the other guys. At no time did any of them try to race and some of them, including (Juan Antonio) Flecha, had already resigned themselves to racing for second.
"I'm more angry that I didn't get the opportunity to properly defend my chances."
A well-organised pursuit, in which each racer takes his turn relaying at the front while others rest in his wheel, would have tested Cancellara to the full - especially in difficult wind conditions.
Some, including Boonen's Quick Step chief Patrick Lefevere, believed the race was far from over.
"I don't think Tom ever thought the race was over then," said Lefevere. "Even with a great Fabian Cancellara, it should have been possible to organise a chase given the quality in that group."
Unfortunately for Boonen, most of them had already conceded defeat.
"I think when Cancellara went everyone understood pretty quickly that we wouldn't be catching him," said Cervelo rider Hushovd, who improved on his third place finish from last year to finish second ahead of Team Sky's Flecha.
Even Boonen's sports director, Wilfried Peeters, admitted: "When I saw Cancellara's initial acceleration I feared then it would be decisive.
"But we can't go looking for excuses. Paris-Roubaix is a man to man battle, and Cancellara was the better man on the day, although Tom wasn't helped by the fact that no one in his group wanted to really chase.
"But we can't be disappointed. Tom's had two runner-up places (Milan-SanRemo and Flanders) and a fifth here this season, and we've won this race a lot in the past."
© AFP 2010