Friday Group Ride #16

Monument #2 of the season is this Sunday: the great Tour of Flanders. No other race in the world takes a series of short hills and turns them into such a series of body blows that even Muhammed Ali would have to take note. Maybe even compose a little poem.

And if you think I’m about to write a commemorative poem for the Tour of Flanders you’d be both right and wrong. I’m just not sharing it here.

Fully 82 percent of all stories on cyclists in Belgium right now concern Tom Boonen and the Tour of Flanders. It will be a national crisis if either he or his team doesn’t deliver something like the Second Coming on Easter.

The list of riders who want to win Flanders is nearly as long as the list of men who’d like a date with Heidi Klum. Similarly, the number of riders truly capable of such a win is just as short as the number of men Miss Klum would allow to buy her coffee.

In my mind this year’s race is an either-or. Stijn Devolder, as great as he is, has been something of an interloper, mopping up spoils when Boonen was just too marked. I don’t think he’ll get that sort of opportunity a third time. No, Belgium wants Tomeke crowned king of Flanders. With his second at San Remo Boonen has proven that he is both fit and hungry for a big win.

So who’s the or? Simple. Cancellara. He has made it clear that he likes new challenges. With Roubaix, San Remo, a World Championship and the Olympics under his belt, he’d like to win something he hasn’t won before. Hmm, Flanders fits the bill.

So here’s the challenge to you: Do you think the winner will be someone other than this oh-so-dynamic duo? If so, who? More important: Why?

Not to point too fine a point on it, but here’s a real challenge: Make a case for why Pozzato could pull this off.

Oh, and while you’re at it, as unlikely as it ought to be, Da Robot has picked up the H1N1 virus. How a Robot gets a pig disease, we’re not sure, but you might wish him well as he suffers.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Lachlan

    I’d like to think Cancellara will… as one of the few true all rounders who TT’s does classics, stage races etc, he’s kind of a modern old school, if that makes sense.

    But If I were a betting man… I probably wouldn’t… there’s always surprises out there, especially in the one day events, and even in Flanders. Odds are it may well be someone other than the favs…

    1. Author

      Scratch that on Pozzato. He’s out of the race. But does anyone think guys like Eisel and Farrar really have a chance? I totally dig Farrar, but he’s still not Hincapie at his best and we know what Hincapie has done at the Ronde. Does anyone think Hincapie finally has that big win in him?

  2. ring_offire

    After his performance last week, Cancellara has to be considered a strong favorite and I’d love to see him add this one to his list of many accomplishments. You cannot overlook the home country favorites as Boonen appears hungry and focused and Devolder, and his fellow countrymen, would certainly love a repeat. Of course, seeing Hincapie finally(!) get that monkey off of his back wold be epic. Is that a wishy washy enough of a way of saying, “bring it on!!”?

  3. Robot

    News of my demise is premature. H1N1 in this case turns out to be a computer virus, hatched in the shady environs of Eastern Europe, perhaps in a CIA black site. Though it did slow my processors for some days, the interruption of service is now over.

    And…Thor Hushovd. He has the stuff. You might argue he’s not on form quite the way Boonen is, but form is a fickle mistress. She can desert you when you need her most. And Hushovd was one of the brave souls who finished K-B-K this year in really awful conditions. Since it’s supposed to rain on Sunday, I think that pushes him up the favorites list.

  4. soul_cramp

    Too bad about Pozzato, but Roubaix might suite him better. If it comes down to Cancellara and Boonen it will be fun to see them battle, will Fabian be able to pull away again like he did at E3? Expect Flecha to still be riding well. Maybe the favorites will be marking each other to the point a dark horse gets a chance. And as always part of me is pulling for Hincapie. He looks to have the rigth support this year so maybe if the bad luck stays away he’ll get a chance. Regardless of the winner, I can’t wait!

  5. Lachlan

    Sadly I get the feeling Hincapie’s big chances are now behind him… but then I probably would have said that about Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle in 1990….. Would be great to see him be the wildcard.

  6. Robot

    Here’s my thing with Hincappie: If he was strong enough to win a Classic this year, wouldn’t he have taken Ghent – Wevelgem last week? He finished fourth. Now granted, the guys in front of him were strong, but I don’t think he rode G-W as a tune up. He made the final selection, but he didn’t have the gas to finish it. Why would he have that gas this week, in a bigger race with more strong men in it? I like Big George®, but is there anyone outside the US still talking about him as a favorite in these races?

  7. sophrosune

    I am with you on that, Robot. Hincapie’s involvement in the Classics manages to keep some US fans focused on these events. But he is not going to win one of the biggies. G-W was his chance and it’s not going to present itself again.

  8. bgorilla

    I don’t know about the assessment of Hincapie. With Eisel there in the final group he wasn’t ever going to have a chance in the sprint. So he played his only card and went early…didn’t work.

    Having said that I don’t think he has it anymore for Flanders or Roubaix. But if he can sneak away without Boonen…maybe…but it would be tough.

  9. MattyVT

    Boonen is always ready for a strong showing at Flanders be he’s so heavily marked that he has had a hard time capitalizing on it. I assume this weekend will be no different. Cancellara is strong enough that he can still break away from the field even if he’s marked.

    I think Hushovd is strong, but illness has kept him from training aggressively. Roubaix is a better event for him, and he’ll probably be stronger next weekend.

    As much as I’d love to see Hincapie score a big win, I just can’t see it being this weekend. Perhaps he’d do better at Roubaix, but I think a good day for him would be just outside the top ten.

    Here are my pics:
    1- Cancellara
    2- Boonen
    3- Ballan
    4- Eisel
    5- Langeveld

    I’ll put these out there for next weekend but I reserve the right to change my mind.

    1- Boonen
    2- Hushovd
    3- Cancellara
    4- Gilbert
    5- Chavanel

    11- Hincapie

  10. Souleur

    All good thoughts.

    I agree that Hincapie, as much as I would love to see him do it, is long in the tooth at this stage of the game.

    Eisel, interesting, but I don’t see him pulling it.

    I loved seeing Devolder pull it the last 2, but both he and Boonen will be marked like Capone on a weekend outing in Chicago, and I cannot see it being pulled out.

    Cancellera, is a possibility, in that he fooled Boonen earlier, and the guy just has it right now. He is brilliant, and I like his chances.

    Pozatto is too bad w/the intestinal bug, because this one suits him, but maybe later.

    I like Thor, he is in form, a hard mans hard man and he can pull it if it stays together past the Muur.

    2 though to take note of. Phillipe Gilbert, is a strong man, riding well, and he is due. He is a high ranker in my book for this one. My heart though, goes with Matt Breschel. He is young, probably barely marked by others, and strong.

    It is going to be very interesting, and if quickstep pulls this one out, it will be remarkable.

  11. MattyVT

    I’d put Breschel in as a dark horse, no question. With the new route it’s hard to tell how selective it will be early on and how negative that will make the tactics. That leads me to believe that a more experienced rider will take the spoils, but I think Breschel could go well.

    It will be interesting to see if everyone watching Boonen will give Devolder the rope for the third year in a row, but I really don’t see that happening. Maybe Patrick Lefevere is deliberately downplaying Devolder’s chances so that he’ll be allowed to go on the attack again, but somehow that doesn’t seem consistent with his tactics. It seems like Chavanel will fair better than Stijn.

  12. Dodger

    Gotta go with Matti or Devo or Chava or, maybe, Flecha as Tommeke and Spartacus mark each other. No Pippo, no Oscar so that makes guessing a little easier. Tommeke needs this, but while I don’t think he’ll get gapped like last week I also don’t see him slipping away.


  13. randomactsofcycling

    In a race where an escape group can actually get away with it, I think all the BIG favourites will be too heavily marked. What about some of the quality ‘2nd tier’ riders like Baden Cooke, Sylvain Chavanel and Johan Vansummeren? Oh and the dark horse – Lars Boom, just for the fun of it……and I can’t help but think that a certain L.A. may have been foxing last week…..

  14. todd k

    I concur with randomactsofcycling that Lars Boom is a dark horse this weekend… he had a great result in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen… for him it is a matter of following the right wheel at the right time…

    I think it is too early for Farrar to have a huge result in this kind of race, but has the potential to grow into the classics… he did race well in Gent-Wevelgem, and may repeat that result or improve, but I don’t see him as a winner.

    Hincapie will be up there, not sure he can deliver a win, but he tends to have god awful luck when he has the legs…

    Cancellera is a worthy odds on favorite… he will be heavily marked, but hard to beat and is familiar in that role… with Boonen and Devolder he has his work cut out for him, though and given those numbers must take control of the race to win it…

  15. mark

    L.A. doesn’t have a chance. Neither does Big George. As much as I like Farrar, he will be off the back and will likely abandon no later than 50K to go.

    If Devolder is on the same form he was last year, he could do it again. He simply waited for the body blows to take their toll and rode away from everyone after they were weakened. It wasn’t an issue of being marked. With patience and good timing, his chances are as good as anyone’s.

    I would love to see Cancellara win it. It’s his kind of race, but I think his only shot is to just ride away from the field. I don’t see him doing that to Boonen or Hushovd–at the classics, those guys somehow seem to get stronger as the race progresses.

    If the weather ends up being wet, the race will go to the hardest of the hard men. That’s Hushovd. That’s who I’d put my money on if I were placing a bet. If it’s tactical with lots of attacks and counter-attacks, I like Devolder. If Cancellara can get some separation after the Valkenburg climb, he could hold it to the end. If there are two men or more on the front with 5K to go, and one of them is Boonen, it’s his race to lose. Ironically, I think being marked favors Boonen because it could keep things together for a bunch sprint. The X factor is if Devolder gets away.

  16. blacksocks

    Lars BOOM! He’s been targeting the “spring classics” , and although unproven at this distance, as a TT champion he has the ability to sustain an effort, and he’s pretty good at hitting his goals…

  17. Michael

    I don’t know what the god of thunder has in store, but I for one am going to be a very interested observer of Dom Rollin, he is getting his first Flanders start and it will be interesting to see how he does. Too bad Klier the road general won’t be there to help giude him through it, I hope Cervelo has Klier in the car to help providing he is feeling sufficiently good enough to do so without any post-concussion syndrome.

    I think this will be one of Rollin’s races in the future, with his newfound fitness (ie losing 2 kg of baby fat from last year) and his prodigious power output once he learns how to ride this race (and Roubaix) he could potentially be the Canadian classic’s successor to Steve Bauer, who knew his way around the cobbles better than all other North Americans not named Hincapie.

    If the weather forecast for Sunday holds and it is rainy, windy and miserable Rollin may just surprise a few a finish near the front, assuming he hasn’t killed himself for Thor by then.

  18. James

    I’m going with Flecha. He has been riding very well lately and he’s a sneaky bastard! Frankly, I don’t care who wins I just want to watch the race!!!

  19. rich_mutt

    despite the fact that boonen and cancellara are heavily marked, it will still be decided between those two and one other surprise interloper from a break. both are in great form.

  20. wvcycling

    @Padraig: Hincapie would have to put a luxury sedan’s worth of cash in everyone’s pockets if it ended in a breakaway and/or pull out every favor owed to him to win a spring classic monument at this point. I’ve even been on my knees and prayed for him to win, and I can only say it was not meant to be at this day in age.

    He has his sports apparel line going for him after he retires, so I’m sure he will be comfortable (economically) with or without these wins…

    George will be overshadowed for the rest of his time on Earth if he doesn’t win Roubaix. It won’t be “oh, congrats for winning U.S. Nats twice,” it will be like Anthony Haney-Jardine said “I don’t understand why the fuck you haven’t won Roubaix”

  21. cthulhu

    Well, if everything goes normally, speak the top riders stick together ’til the very end I guess Boonen will get his win.
    My prediction for that case:
    1. Boonen
    2. Hushovd
    3. Cancellara
    4. Gilbert
    5. Flecha

    But since it is a bike race anything can happen and if those guys keep an eye on each other and their support forms the winning move i think following is quite possible
    1. Boom
    2. Breschel
    3. Chavanel

    But in the end I guess it will be face off between Spartakus and Tommeke, since both are in peak condition and also have really great support, Breschel & Chava and to some lesser degree Devolder, who themselves have chances for a victory. I guess that what will give them an advantage against Hushovd, missing Haussler and Klier really will compromise his chances, and Flecha. And Gilbert will have the disadvantage of the public and sponsor pressure of not having won anything yet and therefor will try to force it too much that it could work. Also his team is not as strong as Saxo Bank’s and Quickstep’s.

  22. Christopher

    As a fellow Carolinian, I must always pull for Big George. But like mentioned prior, his days are closing in quickly. With all the big hitters out with illness or injury, I really can see a relative no name come out and win it. Of the more known names, maybe Martijn Maaskant, Gilbert, or Fabian. I would love to see HTC win but i just don’t see that happening either

  23. Lachlan

    CH on top!

    No arguing with that!
    Drop you on the climb, then power away… That’s a solid way to win a monument!

  24. SinglespeedJarv

    Missed this weeks ride because I’m on holiday, a shame but the odds of anyone other than Cancellara winning weren’t good. Still can’t doubt the result as following on from MSR it was another strong monument podium. The classics have been good this year. Hard to see past Boonen and Cancellara for Roubaix either, although I’m chucking Millar into the hat for next week.

  25. C.Monaco

    As I pulled out the old Krietlers this afternoon and parked them in front of the tube I never thought, not in that fashion…

    As Cancellara held his hand up for his mechanic to see my heart dropped, watching him snake through the back of the peloton…

    As he, during the commercial break, rode calmly and smoothly to the front I nearly rolled myself onto the living-room floor upon seeing him beside Boonen at the head of the peloton…

    As he sat down hard on the Muur, Boonen leaping to his feet, unable to properly respond, a smile so natural and so broad broke across my face, I had to bring my hands to my cheeks to cool them.

    The Champion! He is the strongest, strongest, strongest man.

  26. Robot

    Cancellar crushed ’em. Even when Boonen was able to make that first move with him, he never looked anything close to as comfortable as the Swiss. And the decisive move? Wow. Wonder what sort of watts he was putting out just then?

    To win Flanders, alone in photo, that’s a thing to remember.

  27. Souleur

    you know robot, i was wondering the same thing. It had to be serious wattage, but he made it look effortless. In TT mode on the top, his calves just oozed power and Boonen couldn’t have caught him if he had a rocket tied to his back!

  28. MattyVT

    That attack was reminiscent of Cancellara’s bridge up to the leaders during the Olympic road race and was equally awe-inspiring. I recall seeing some power calculations made by Allen Lim that projected Cancellara’s average wattage for the Prologue of the ’07 tour in London to be in the neighboorhood of 600- 700 watts for the 8:50 it took for him to complete the course.

  29. Lachlan

    RANDOM, but it strikes me (in a far-removed, stay with me, analogy kinda way) that Flanders and to a lesser extent Roubaix are often more like the kind of team / local rides I experience than are the grand tours or other classics….

    To explain: the last man standing at the front when the inevitable hard riding starts does not ‘win’ by attacking on the last big climb (having never seen the front before) NOR in a calculated last minute team lead-out sprint, NOR thanks to a clever breakaway and attacking in the last km … as in the tour or most races. Rather the field is worn out by the grind and at some tough moment in the ride the strongest rider just pulls away and everyone else tries, but fails to jump on the wheel. Just stronger/harder/more endurance/better breakfast…
    : o )

    Seen it on a million winter and summer rides a like… of course at lower speeds and a fraction of the distance! But not so so often in pro races.

  30. Doug

    Tony’s max power? 1450 watts on the Muur. Max HR, 190 bpm ….This was on twitter via Total Cyclist I believe.

  31. Champs

    Cancellara transcended the cobbles rode like there was a fresh carpet of asphalt in front of him. You can’t beat the guy when he’s on a completely different climb.

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