FGR #17 Wrap

Was it thrilling? Were you thrilled? Were you surprised to see Cancellara ride away with the race for the second weekend running? Were you pulling for Tommeke to reel the big Swiss back in? Did you think Hincapie was going to make something of his good mid-race position? Was Pozzato disappointing? What of Flecha and Hushovd, who seemed to wait for the Champion of Belgium to ride himself out in the chase, before dropping him in advance of the velodrome?

From my perspective, this year’s Paris-Roubaix was a bit of a let down. I successfully avoided learning the results all day in anticipation of the Versus coverage with Liggett and Sherwen (It’s the curse of residing on this side of the Atlantic that you can’t see these great races live), and then plopped myself down on the couch after reading my boys some rivetting bedtime stories about bears and mice having tea together, only to witness a decidedly subdued Hell of the North.

The French police barred spectators from drinking in the Arenberg Forest (above), and so there were far fewer at cobble-side, and thus less crashes. In fact, this version of the Queen of the Classics was just too short of mayhem for my tastes, an opinion not at all backed up by the fact that 85 riders had DNF next to their names at the end of the day.

The favorites rode to the front and stayed there. The usual attrition, the pummeling of the pavé, thinned the race down. And then Fabian Cancellara crushed the rest of the strong men, who scrabbled around in his dust, literally, leaving Tom Boonen alone to put up a fight. Quite how the nine of them couldn’t conjure any sort of meaningful paceline to at least limit their losses underlines how much stronger Cancellara was, physically AND mentally.

This was another aspect I found disappointing, the lack of fight from the guys who were supposed to fight.

After the race, as I noted in comments, Saxo Bank owner/manager Bjarne Riis took credit for his rider’s race-winning move. Apparently he commanded his giant Swiss-bot to attack at just the moment he saw Boonen napping at the back of the group. I’d pay 100 Francs to sit next to Bernhard Hinault while he read that interview and then went off on a profanity-laced tirade about modern riders all being a bunch of gigolos attached to Game Boys, but I’m like that. I love the drama. And badgers.

Getting to our little prediction contest…what’s wrong with you guys? You came up with really every permutation of Cancellara, Flecha, Hushovd, Boonen, Hincapie, etc., etc., et. al., PhD, MBA, PDQ, EXCEPT the right one. How did you do that? Well, now you know how Tom Boonen feels. Good effort, but no prize.

Images: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Fausto

    The drama of a close race was replaced by amazement. It did look like everyone elses strategy was “just like last week, let’s race for second place” But remember, their once was a guy they called Cannibal because he did the same thing evey Sunday and they greatest were left to fill out the podium. People hated E.M. because he dominated so big, we were just not there to see it, read it and talk about it. Now we all think of him as GOD but how many races did he make look boring because of it, 500-600?

  2. Touriste-Routier

    Robot, for coverage, love them or hate them, but Cycling.TV had the race live in North America. And there are always the links available from cyclingfans.com With a little planning, you can watch most of the races live; you may not have English commentary, but you can see the races, most often commercial free.

  3. wvcycling

    Second to last paragraph = SOLID GOLD.

    I only caught the last 1XX or so kilometers of the race, and it was fun seeing all of our well known riders in the front. Your description of the happenings is majorly accurate, but I would like to point out how much the whole Saxo Bank team worked on this day; whether it be the team taking to the front to draw back the four riders that edged up to what was it, a three minute gap at some point while keeping Fabian Cancellara out of the wind for as long as possible.

    It was pretty amazing to say that for the last 30-so km, Cancellara’s only competition was the Train à Grande Vitesse, and it’s passengers. I still think they could have caught him if they all really wanted to, but that is life, no?

  4. SinglespeedJarv

    Have to agree with Fausto as well. Still a bit stunned at how it turned out. Not wanting to take anything away from Cancellara’s win, because boy did he earn it, but he did steal some of the spectacle of the event. Everyone seemed to understand that the race was over once he’d gone. I think the biggest disappointment was that no-one reacted, you would have expected one or two to go with him, but no-one?

    Anyhow, could have been far worse, it could have been a big group sprint, as at least one DS was predicting.

  5. randomactsofcycling

    Bravo Cancellara for having the balls to go from so far out.
    It’s ironic that Riis is claiming so much credit for his use of the radio when this is exactly the kind of break-away we want to see more of, without radios.

  6. MattyVT

    I too obstained from checking the results prior to watching the race on Versus, yet I couldn’t help but feel like I already knew the outcome as soon as Cancellara got a 20 second gap within 2k. It was tough not to feel bad for Boonen as he’s had a rough (and arguably self-induced) run the last couple years. This spring he’s had such great form with nothing to show for it. He really seemed like the only one who could do anything bring the race back together. It’s commendable that he really was racing for the win instead of letting the others take up the pace and sprinting for silver.

    Whit Yost’s article on Pez Cyclingnews states that the new classics battle was between Pozzato and Boonen. It would be great so see the racing be a little more interesting with a three way battle instead of the Boonen & Cancellara show.

  7. Kuzu

    It was amazing watching Super Human Cancellara destroy a field of riders like that, but also very disappointing. I don’t understand how a group of PRO’s can just settle for second place? Where is the pride? I say no radios next year, lets see the riders race on instinct alone and to shut Riis up.

  8. Souleur

    Ok, Souleur, while amazed at the break was likewise disappointed for a few reasons. First, all winter long I prayed for a nasty rainy slicker than teflon coated pave’, one we have not witnessed since George came across the line some many years ago coated in mud and stated ‘it was the hardest thing he had ever done’. Then Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne came, and my collective juices flowed as the El Nino pattern seemed primed to pummel Belgium as it had all winter long. Finally, a hard hard Paris-Roubaix, I hoped. Week after week, closer it got, the hope continued to become a bit closer to that of reality, then the Nordic gods seemed to fade, loosing interest or rather becoming merciful to the peloton as the weather prediction changed a few days out for yet another dry and lightly windy Paris-Roubaix.

    That disappointment aside, the breakaway by Cancellara is a two edged sword. On one edge, he shoved it so deeply into the side of the peloton that remained, it was obvious with even 40k to go, he was a goner. The proverbial wind in the balloon was all but blown, nothing left but a fizzle. The other edge to this sword is that the as fight was all but done so was the drama. Did anyone actually think that after last week that Tommke was capable of a catch and pass of Cancellara?? It was like watching a fish out of water, it flops, it flails, but in all actuality, its demise is no less nor any more one way or the other, and that was what i saw in the move. The drama of the last few k’s, the cat and mouse game, the tactics of adding up who’s who was all but a twitters tweet and by-gones were by-gones by Cancellara’s brilliant expose’.

    so, yes and yes, i was both awed by it, and disappointed.
    perhaps we will get the mud and slop next year.

  9. mike hogan

    I had the same thought as Kuzu, that sunday was clear example why race radios should be banned from racing. One can ride at the front and have eyes in the back of ones head. The rider knows if the chase is on or not without looking back. Before radios the group of riders were they own entity, a rider had to judge distance to effort to how they felt and can I maintain this. There is ebb and flow to a race and a rider should know when to make an effort, now with out a thought the the rider hears attack now, or chase, in the earpiece. By the way E.M. achieved those wins because he could read a race for himself.

    That being said, I am not taking anything away from Cancellara it was a strong performance.

  10. travis

    Not surprised at all by the result. Cancellara has amazing form and took the “bull by the horns” by taking off the way he did. I do wonder if the race had stayed together with say 3 or 4 of the favorites making it into the velodrome if Fabian would have the sprint to beat Boonen or Hushovd. Part of the allure of Roubaix for me is always to see a battle to the end by the great men of the classics. I am most disappointed in the group that was with Boonen after Cancellara left. It is beyond comprehension that 4 or 5 of the biggest names in cycling couldn’t pull it together for a few minutes to close a manageable gap. Of course Tommke wasn’t going to catch Cancellara after a 1 minute gap appears. But it is criminal that a group that strong let a solo break take 2 plus minutes on them with 50k to go.

  11. BikeRog

    What amazed me about this race is the fact that the elite group of riders at the front simply let Cancellara ride away from them without trying to reel him in. I just have a hard time believing that the sharp edge of this leading group would not have been able to bring him back–or at least make a race of it by trying.

    Yeah, I understand they didn’t want to tow Boonen up to the front, but by not doing so, they were just racing for second place without even the slight chance of winning they would have earned if only they were able to reel him in.

    Shame on those riders, and shame on their DS’s for not ordering them to give chase. They may have the best legs in the world, but their hearts seemed awfully small on the road to Roubaix.

  12. Robot

    One other point: Where was the rest of Quick Step? Aren’t they the Belgian Classics squad? How was it that only Boonen was able to ride on the front with the Saxo boys? I mean, props to Saxo, they rode everyone else out of the saddle, setting it up for their monster to win, but are Riis’ men harder than Quick Step. Very disappointing.

    I feel genuinely bad for Boonen. He showed a lot of individual effort and fight and got no support from teammates or fellow breakaways.

  13. Doug P

    Impressive but not interesting win by Cancellara. I’m disappointed Boonen was caught napping. Excepting Boonen, the chase group looked like amateurs. Psychologically they were beaten already.. Yawn.

  14. todd k

    When compared to prior years, this Roubaix rated “ok” for this fan. I agree with many comments that we lacked drama in comparison to some other years. But the dominant display of Cancellara’s power was awe inspiring. It was sufficient to make for a memorable Roubaix.

    I also share Robot’s thoughts regarding the lack of mayhem. I underestimated how much I heavily anticipate the dissappointment/elation you feel when your favorite does or doesn’t make that selection. I don’t require crashes, but I do like it when the Arenberg causes the first selection and it just didnt play a role in Roubaix this year. The peloton rode through it more or less in tact. It was akin to the dissappointment I feel when the Poggio fails to really factor into the Milan-San Remo.

    That said, I am grateful that after building up a 3 minute gap nothing silly or unfortunate happened that would have lead to an alternative ending for Cancellara. While I think crashing, mechanicals, etc are an inherent factor in Roubaix, I would have been left with a hollow feeling had Cancellara lost by crashing out after crushing everyone’s soul.

  15. SinglespeedJarv

    Quick-step are going to have to do something about their squad, without Boonen they offer very little. Now the classics are over, Devolder’s season has finished, and it would seem the non-selection of Chavenel would indicate that he has fallen out of favour with Lefevere for some reason or other.

    Lefevere has already bemoaned his lack of budget compared to the influx of big spenders as well as being 3million Euro lighter than last year. But why has this come about when he used to run the biggest team in pro-cycling that was full of multi-national stars, now he has a team of Boonen.

    Perhaps hanging everything on one rider wasn’t such a smart move and neither was the way he managed Boonen’s issues over the last couple of seasons.

  16. Robot

    @Jarv I agree with you mostly on Quick Step. They have failed to be anything more than Boonen and some pack fodder. BUT…in Lefevre’s defense, he did spend a chunk of the off-season trying to pull in Contador, who would, obviously, have been a game changer. He put all his cards on the table there, and lost. Then again, I suppose you could argue that, if he could get the cash together to sign Contador, he should have had the dosh to splash on some other decent riders. I guess having Specialized slap them in the face didn’t help much either.

  17. JZ

    Booooring (last 40K at least), but impressive. I was most disappointed in the lack of effort to bring Cancellara back. I really felt sorry for Boonen. It sucks to have awesome form only to not have as awesome of form as the winner. It seemed like to me that those in the Boonen group didn’t want to help Boonen catch FC, knowing that Boonen was stronger than any of them, so either way they would be racing for no better than second. I guess that makes sense, but its frustrating to watch.

    Boonen also appeared to spend way too much energy closing gaps and chasing down breaks prior to FC’s flight. He probably should have sat on FC’s wheel, but then again that is not his style and that is why I like him.

  18. Lachlan

    I’m gonna be the odd one out here and say I loved it.

    A bit like I loved back in the lance days seeing the ‘boring’/predictable postal set up to the foot of a climb and see lance disappear up the road, leaving everyone else looking like schoolboys as soon as the gradient set in, (and I’m very much not a lance fan by the way)… I find it really great to watch EITHER a nail-bitter (which of course this was not) OR a virtuoso masterclass in power and performance that humbles everyone else.

    I can’t get enough of watching Cancellara both powering away in Flanders and again here… instead of tension of seeing if someone would stay away it was wow-factor at seeing FC keep on pulling away.

    Love seeing that kind of ride… Is what I have in my head to keep me going during the dullest of turbo training sessions :+ )

  19. Michael

    I really enjoyed this edition, and to anyone who thinks/says that those boys in the chase gave up too easily, they were all on the rivet for the first 10-15k of the chase. at some point if you aren’t making time and you are in the red you have to accept that you do not have god-like powers that day and you need to throttle it down and hold something in reserve for a placing.

    I bet if you spoke in length to everyone in that front group they will say that to a man they were all cross-eyed after that stretch of pave where Cancellara attacked.

    Do you think they slowed down to 25 kph on the pavement just for shits and giggles?

  20. Henry

    It seems that Cancellara broke them mentally with his attack. They seemed a demoralized bunch. With their combined talent and power you would have expected more of an organized chase. It was painful to see Boonen so frustrated, realizing that Fabian had given him the slip and unable to rally the troops. I guess the race had taken it’s toll by that point.

  21. Big Ring

    Read the Boonen’s comments over at Cyclenews…he pretty much said it all. Flecha was the culprit that didn’t want to ride along with three others. The other three riders did. Was it a superhuman effort by Fabian? absolutely, but in my opinion that is a bunch of hooey. The group deciding within seconds not to ride. Seems to me they have a responsibility to chase. Towards the end Boonen even commented he didn’t even want to ride for second after he couldn’t get the group committed. Flecha then attacks later? Personally, I just don’t like that way of riding….

  22. Jim

    First comment removed, so I’ll try again.
    To use a war term, faced with overwhelming firepower the poursuivants chose not too. Why?> They could not have. During a respite when everyone is gassed, THAT takes off. They’d seen this movie before and know how it ends.

  23. SinglespeedJarv

    To those who were disappointed with the chasers, I can understand, but as Henry says, Cancellara broke them with his attack. Boonen’s face immediately he realised Fab had gone told the whole story. It was only Boonen who felt he had a chance, Hushovd, Hammond and Flecha immediately knew they were racing for second and it seemed fairly obvious from where I was sitting as well. Cancellara is the best time-trialist in the world and every section of Pave is a time-trial.

    @Big Ring do you not think that the culprit might have Boonen? Could he not have taken off by himself instead of trying to get the others to work? Put yourself in their position, the week before Cancellara had ridden Boonen off his wheel and the pair of them had ridden away from everyone else, what would you have done? Me, I would have been sat there hoping that Cancellara had a mechnical and working out how to get second.

  24. SinglespeedJarv

    @Robot re: “The Quick-Step/Belgian Cycling Crisis” I heard/read that Specialized dropping them cost them a lot of Euros. Didn’t realise that Lefevere had tried to get Contador. Seems a bit odd given that it was clear that Astana weren’t going to let him go at any cost, that Contador had signed up with Specialized who were hardly going to do a u-turn on Boonen and that Quick-Step were hardly known as a team who could help out much in the Tour.

    Boonen’s indiscretions also cost them Lazer helmets sponsorship.

    Also, who else would want to join a team so clearly set around the Golden Child? At present, although winless, Lotto have shown quite a lot better than Quick-step in races and although, other than Gilbert, they don’t seem to have a winner on the team, they do have a few young riders with potential to come through in the next season or two. I read something yesterday on another blog about the huge divide between the training methods on the modern cycling teams/nations such as Saxo Bank and of Quick-Step and the Belgians and why this my explain the poor performance of their riders.

  25. rich_mutt

    there too many grammatical errors on my above post. padraig or robot, please delete it!

    fabian’s stellar performance was as superlative as his competition was dismal. except for boonen, no one else showed any heart. i feel bad for boonen. he was the only rider in the peleton that didn’t want to lose that day. what can be said about cancellera except that he was head and shoulders above the competition. i didn’t care much for riis’s boasting of his superior tactics- it’s is as if he was the sole reason fabian won the race.

    it’s interesting- i like boonen more when he’s losing than when he’s winning. at least he has the class to care.

  26. JZ

    As I have thought more about both Flanders and Roubaix, I keep wishing the UCI would sack up and actually ban race radios. Particularly in Roubaix, Riis’ bragging about telling FC when to attack just ticked me off. It sure is fun for Riis to be playing his little video game. I think Riis was more proud of himself than FC.

  27. Henry

    It seems Boonen knew he could not catch Fabian alone and Hushovd, Hammond and Flecha immediately on FC escaping saw themselves as racing Boonen for second. Not much hope for Boonen in that situation.

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