Tour of Flanders: Fabian Cancellara solos to victory
Saxo Bank rider Fabian Cancellara ended Switzerland’s long wait for victory in the Tour of Flanders one-day classic Sunday with a superb solo attack 15km from the finish.
Belgium’s two-time winner Tom Boonen, of Quick Step, finished runner-up in the 261.5km epic at over a minute behind after being dropped on the steep pitches of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the race’s penultimate cobbled climb.
Cancellara, only the second Swiss to win the biggest one-day race in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium after Henry Suter in 1923, thus claims his third cycling ‘Monument’ – of which only five exist – after his Milan SanRemo win in 2006 and his Paris-Roubaix triumph in 2008.
“When you win a race like Flanders, it’s history you’re making,” said the Swiss, who had time to pay tribute to his watching family by brandishing an Easter Sunday trinket to the television cameras three kilometres from the line.
Once again the 29-year-old showed that, apart from the major Tours and the toughest of the one-week stages races, there could be no limit to his winning potential. The Olympic time trial champion and Boonen, the 2005 world road race champion, had the race virtually sewn up as they raced side by side with less than 20km to go and several pelotons well adrift in their wake.
However, Boonen’s reputation for being a faster sprinter condemned Cancellara into attacking before they made it to the home straight.
Early on the Muur Cancellara looked to be feigning a brief bout of fatigue, only to hammer past Boonen. As Cancellara powered ahead sitting in the saddle, a dancing Boonen looked to be on the limit.
Cancellara’s time trial skills did the rest and soon had him well in front with only one climb, the Bosberg, to negotiate.
“With three kilometres to go, I knew the victory was in the bag,” said Cancellara, the reigning Swiss champion who is known, rather ominously for his rivals, as ‘Spartacus’ for his gladiator-like style on the bike.
Boonen, 29, fought valiantly but his deficit grew steadily and with only four kilometres to race he was already a minute behind. He came over the finish line 1min 15sec in arrears to claim his second successive runner-up place in a one-day classic after he was beaten to victory in Milan-SanRemo by Spaniard Oscar Freire two weeks ago.
Boonen, who will be looking to go one better than his recent runner-up places at next week’s Paris-Roubaix, which he has won three times, was gracious in defeat.
“I was racing after him at 55 km/h, and he took a minute off me. What can I say? He was the strongest,” said the Belgian.
Belgian Philippe Gilbert finished third, the same as last year, with compatriot Bjorn Leukemans in fourth.
A first chasing peloton crossed the finish line over two minutes behind Cancellara.
Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, used the race to get a feel for the cobbles ahead of racing on similar terrain in July’s Tour de France. The American stayed out of danger in the notoriously treacherous roads to finish among a big peloton at 2:35.