Glory on the cobbles for Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider
By Brecht Decaluwé
Local favourite Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) won the 2012 Tour of Flanders on Sunday afternoon, holding off Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC) in a three-man sprint to the line to secure his third win in the popular Belgian race. Boonen became the fourth rider in cycling history to win the Tour of Flanders three times.
Tom boonen celebrates his win:AFP/Getty Images
The much-anticipated battle between Boonen and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) failed to materialise after the Swiss rider crashed out dramatically with 62km to go.
Boonen, Pozzato and Ballan were left to provide the finale’s drama in front of fanatical and generous crowds. The trio made a decisive move by pulling clear with 18km left, and the Belgian prevailed in the end, continuing in the brilliant form that he has sustained so far in 2012.
In the final kilometers, the efforts of the three riders resembled a three-up match sprint on a velodrome as they played cat and mouse games toward the finish.
Action from the gun
Immediately after leaving Bruges, the breakaway attempts started. On the first wide roads, nobody got away but the altered route through Zerkegem, the town where 1935 Tour de France winner Romain Maes was born 100 years ago, made a difference. After going through Zerkegem’s tiny roads, a group of 15 riders representing 14 teams got away.
The group included high-profile riders like sprinter Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), triple Grand Tour stage winner Pablo Lastras Garcia (Movistar) and several breakaway specialists like David Boucher (FDJ-Big Mat), Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) and Gert Dockx (Lotto-Belisol). The other names in the group were Manuel Belletti (AG2R La Mondiale), Peio Bilbao (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Baptiste Planckaert (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Massimo Graziato (Lampre-ISD), Vladimir Isaichev (Katusha) and Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano). NetApp was represented by two riders: Daniel Schorn and Andreas Schillinger.
Despite the efforts from the Omega Pharma – Quick Step team on behalf of top favorite Boonen, the 15 leaders gained time on the peloton. Boonen’s men switched the pace up a notch without going full gas and as they approached the first pavé sections near Kruishoutem after 85km of racing, the leaders’ gap was up to nearly six minutes.
The Garmin-Barracuda team moved to the front at the cobbles of the Huisepontweg and Doorn, later joined by the GreenEdge team and others, who brought the gap down to 5:30 as they passed through the finish town Oudenaarde after 100km of racing.
At the third climb of the day, the Molenberg, Cancellara flatted and the peloton split up with six riders setting up a counter-attack. A six-man chase group trailed the lead group by four minutes and included Matthew Hayman (Sky), Tomas Vaitkus (GreenEdge), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Aliaksandr Kyuschinski (Katusha), Alexandre Pichot (Europacar) and Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM). Boonen wouldn’t let them get away and they were caught before they hit the next climb, the Rekelberg.
Due to more accelerations from Hayman, Björn Leukemans, Thor Hushovd, Johan Vansummeren, Stijn Vandenbergh and Daniele Bennati, the gap dropped further to just three minutes as the leaders rode over the Berendries and the Valkenberg. When they started on the first of the loops with the dual ascents of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, the speed went up another notch although there were no specific attacks in the peloton.
The Koppenberg awaited the riders. In front, only nine men survived it, and they finished off the tough cobbled climb with a gap of two minutes on the peloton. At the feed zone after the Koppenberg – 64km from the finish – bad luck struck Cancellara. The 2010 winner and favorite coming into this edition somehow hit the deck and didn’t get back up after he fractured his collarbone in three places.
A large peloton entered Ronse for the first time and powered towards the Kruisberg/Hontond at less than a minute from the leaders. On the Kruisberg, there was an acceleration from Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC). Several men followed the Belgian champion, but a little later they were caught by the peloton while at about the same time, the leaders were also caught. Only David Boucher managed to sneak away just before the regrouping in front. On the descent towards Kluisbergen, there was a high-speed crash in which Sebastiaan Langeveld (GreenEdge) collided with a startled spectator after he tried to move up in the peloton by taking the bike lane to the far right of the road. It appeared as if Langeveld hurt his collarbone or shoulder and he had to abandon.
At the foot of the Oude Kwaremont, upon starting the second loop, Boucher was also caught, bringing the peloton all together. Vanmarcke led on the first stretches of the Kwaremont until Chavanel accelerated. The pace from the French champion caused damage in the peloton and on the following section towards the Paterberg, he didn’t look back.
Sylvain chavanel (omega pharma-quickstep) on the kwaremont:AFP/Getty Images
Chavanel forces the issue
A definitive split
About 25 riders survived this selection, although Flecha, Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Vincent Jérôme (Europcar) anticipated the next steep hill at 34km from the finish. In the sharp corner coming into the Paterberg, there was a crash in the main group, taking down men like Vansummeren and hindering outsiders like Matti Breschel and Peter Sagan. The latter recovered soon and bridged back up with the group of leaders featuring Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Chavanel, Pozzato, Ballan, Vanmarcke, Jérôme, Paolini and Maxim Iglinsky (Astana).
Ballan then applied pressure and seemed to ride away easiliy off the front with 18km to go. Not happy with this development, Boonen and Pozzato bridge up to him. This was the racing-winning split.
The tactical games with the three men started in the final kilometers. Ballan launched a few attacks that Boonen closed each time, and when the Italian former world champion went for the last time, Boonen blasted around him toward the finish line. Pozzato tried to charge up and overtake Boonen, but was not strong enough to over take the Belgian favorite, who won his third Tour of Flanders.
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
2 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Farnese Vini – Selle Italia
3 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team
4 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
6 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
7 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha Team
8 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar
9 Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank Cycling Team
10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
11 Grégory Rast (Swi) Radioshack-Nissan
12 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Katusha Team
13 Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
14 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
15 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha Team
16 Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
17 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Katusha Team
18 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team Saxo Bank
19 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
20 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Procycling
21 Hayden Roulston (NZl) Radioshack-Nissan
22 Elia Favilli (Ita) Farnese Vini – Selle Italia
23 Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
24 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Radioshack-Nissan
25 Maarten Wynants (Bel) Rabobank Cycling Team
26 Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Team Europcar
27 Vincent Jerome (Fra) Team Europcar
28 Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team
29 Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
30 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin – Barracuda
31 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Greenedge Cycling Team
32 Steve Chainel (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
33 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
34 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre – ISD
35 Egidijus Juodvalkis (Ltu) Landbouwkrediet
36 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team
37 Leif Hoste (Bel) Accent Jobs – Willems Veranda’s
38 Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Farnese Vini – Selle Italia
39 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
40 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
41 Gustav Larsson (Swe) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team
42 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet
43 Francesco Failli (Ita) Farnese Vini – Selle Italia
Judith arndt (greenedge) wins the women’s tour of flanders:AFP/Getty Images
Judith Arndt became the first rider to win on the new look Ronde Van Vlaanderen course by outsprinting Kristin Armstrong. The pair powered away on the Oude Kwaremont 30 kilometres from Oudenaarde finish and left Canadian rider Joelle Numainville to take the group sprint for third.
The one-two result was an identical finish to the ladies’ Ronde in 2008, when Arndt (GreenEdge) again edged out Armstrong who was back in Europe at the head of an American team.
“It had a good end for me,” Arndt said modestly afterwards. “I was looking forward to the last 20kms – I like it better than the old course. It’s kind of strange that it was exactly the same result as four years ago.” She added.
The race lacked the presence Dutch champion Marianne Vos who pulled out on the eve of the race through illness, but the hundreds of thousands who lined Belgium’s most famous race didn’t care and gave vocal support to the 127km event.
The race came to the boil as the peloton hit the cobbles on the Paadestraat section under the pressure of Armstrong’s American squad, who were determined to make the 127km race as hard as possible.
A puncture on the Paadestraat wrecked the defending champion, Annemiek Van Vleuten’s chances of contending the final.
“Our goal was to be barely able to finish at the line.” said Armstrong’s teammate, Kristin McGrath. “We all were making attacks to keep the peloton strung out so Armstrong could attack on the Kwaremont, and the plan worked.”
Numerous probing attacks were made as the race travelled over the Berendries, Valkenberg and Kanarieberg climbs at the heart of the race. According to reports the peloton was frequently split into large groups. At one point, more than a minute separated the first and second bunches.
The decisive move was made amid the screaming fans on the Kwaremont, when Carmen Small-McNellis of the United States team hit the bottom of the climb in first place and made the perfect platform for Armstrong, the reigning Olympic TT champion to make her move. Only Arndt, the World TT champion had the legs to stay with her.
However at the finish British National Champion Lizzie Armitstead said race communication broke down and the chasing peloton weren’t being given time gaps or even knew who was ahead.
“We just had to pull the last 15kms and bring back the group, but weren’t getting any times or numbers.”
She said: “I’m disappointed. I think my inexperience showed. I’ve only done Flanders once before and I was too excited. In went with an attack after the Kanarieberg and again just before the Oude Kwaremont so the attack was caught and when they come past you with speed it’s hard to [get on].”
While Armitstead’s AA Drinks-Leontien.nl squad tried rein in the break in the closing stages, the combined strength of the two world-beating time-trialists was too much.
The pair collaborated all the way to the final kilometre. “I was surprised we were the only two left,” said Arndt. “In a sprint like this you pretty much feel immediately if you are going to beat the other or not.
“We’re both similar types of rider. We don’t really have an acceleration so we both knew if we wanted to win we had to do a long sprint. I watched her like a track rider and she started to go at about 350m. I also started immediately.” It was Arndt’s fourth victory this year, including the overall at the Ladies’ Tour of Qatar.
For Armstrong who has her sights firmly set on the London Olympic Games, it was a satisfying performance.
“It makes me feel good. I wanted to come into the early season so I can take a break before London. I have to come in strong to show that I can race in Europe. This is just one more step towards selection.”
1 Judith Arndt (Ger) Greenedge-Ais
2 Kristin Armstrong (USA) USA National Team
3 Joelle Numainville (Can) Canada National Team
4 Kirsten Wild (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl Cycling Team
5 Adrie Visser (Ned) Skil 1T4I
6 Eleonora Van Dijk (Ned) Team Specialized-Lululemon
7 Evelyn Arys (Bel) Kleo Ladies Team
8 Christine Majerus (Lux) Team GSD Gestion
9 Anna Van Der Breggen (Ned) Sengers Ladies Cycling Team
10 Alena Amialiusik (Blr) Be Pink
11 Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Fra) Stichting Rabo Women Cycling Team
12 Emma Johansson (Swe) Hitec Products-Mistral Home Cycling Team