The RvV Wrap-Up

What. A. Race. There were so many big moments in yesterday’s Tour of Flanders, it reminded me of a Fourth of July fireworks show. As soon as you think, “That must be it,” another big blast goes off and leaves you breathless.

First of all, Nick Nuyens. This guy has been an increasingly dark horse since some good showings in 2008. That he won the Dwar doors Vlaanderen a week-and-a-half ago might have been an indication of good form, but it took more than form to win yesterday’s Ronde. It took the perfect tactics, riding wheels, getting in the right moves, saving up, and then exploding in the last 200m to absolutely shock everyone.

Padraig: Nick Nuyens rode a terrific race and has given Bjarne Riis the right to walk around with a guilt-free smug grin for the rest of the week. And though he won, because he isn’t a rider I have feelings for one way or another and really did nothing to make the race exciting save for the fact that he won the final sprint (and let’s be honest, it is the most important move of the race), I must admit I feel slightly cheated by the outcome.

For some Nuyens’ win is disappointing. The Ronde is an emotional race, and it wants an emotional winner. Does anyone have any feelings for Nuyens? No. I didn’t think so.

At the finish I wondered, though, if Cancellara had had Riis in his ear, would the outcome have been different? More importantly, did Spartacus have the same thought? For fans, this win for Saxo can only intensify the rivalry with Leopard-Trek. Can there be any doubt who is winning?

Padraig: Spartacus was the man of the day. He may only have gotten third, but he was the carbonated water in my Coke, and a Coke without fizz is just pointless.

And if the Leopards were disappointed with third place, how must Quick Step have felt about 2nd and 4th. It looked as though QS put too much stock in the plan to win with Tom Boonen, completely disregarding, until it was too late, the obvious strength of Sylvain Chavanel on the day.

Padraig: For my part it was a race of surprises. I was surprised to learn that Quick Step director Patrick Lefevre was all-in on Boonen. You’ve got Sylvain Chavanel and you won’t let him do anything more than mark Spartacus? Really? That Philippe Gilbert couldn’t stay away showed how stunningly strong the top riders were. But I think my biggest shock was when Cancellara originally attacked how easily Tomeke seemed to give up when he got caught up in traffic.

The turning point for the Quick Steps seemed to come with about 2k to go with Chavanel off the front with Spartacus and Nuyens. The Frenchman shook hands with the Swiss as if to say, “I’ve been released. We can work together now,” which is just what they did, holding off Boonen, Gilbert, Flecha, Leukemans, et. al. Where Riis got it just right, QS chief Lefevre got it just wrong.

Was anyone else screaming at the TV for Gilbert when he made his own move with 3k left? It was textbook Gilbert, but just as Cancellara’s textbook escape with 40ks left failed to break the chasers’ will, so too was Gilbert reeled in.

Special mention should go to three domestiques. First, Chavanel, who was clearly Boonen’s up the road decoy, continued to follow the plan long after Boonen was able to hold up his end of the bargain. Second, Geraint Thomas buried himself over and over to keep Flecha in amongst the leaders, and finally Big George Hincapie performed yeoman’s work towing Alessandro Ballan over cobble and dale. Even if their leaders didn’t come through, they did their jobs to perfection. Hats off.

The only item left on my agenda is a quick assessment of Garmin-Cervelo. They sucked. I suppose Farrar did well to take the bunch sprint from the peloton, but did anyone hear Haussler’s name mentioned all day? And what did Hushovd do in the rainbow jersey? He was there or thereabouts for two-thirds of the race and then faded like a pair of Levis on permanent spin cycle.

I watched the race twice. Once on the Eurosport feed (while tuned in to the Feed Zone on Pavé, and that was excellent) and then again in the afternoon on Versus. It struck me how completely different were the stories the two networks told.

What did you think of this year’s Ronde? What surprised you? And what does it all mean for next week’s tilt in the North of France?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Author

    @kg – A lot of people have vilified Vaughters for that directive, but if you think about the situation at the time, Haussler nowhere, Hushovd in the third group on the road, only Farrar anywhere close, it makes perfect sense. He could have sent Farrar on a suicide mission over climbs that humbled better climbers, but the dude’s a sprinter. He’d have been burning matches he doesn’t have, to contest a sprint that was never going to happen. OR, he could have had Hushovd bury himself to get back up to Farrar, then then see if they could drag themselves up to the front group (not going to happen). Any way you slice it, they’re putting out watts for no reason, a week in advance of a race they think they can win.

    Does that make any sense? To me, “don’t ride,” makes a lot more sense. Garmin-Cervelo had a crappy day. No reason to turn it into a crappy week.

  2. randomactsofcycling

    It was worthy of the ‘Classic’ title and certainly makes one think about the psyche of a few of the riders. Cancellara clearly has the upper hand on Boonen, who seems to wave the white flag everytime Spartacus goes up the road. Nuyens has admitted that Bjarne Riis’ belief in him was a major factor in his win and yes I also wondered whether Cancellara would have raced a little smarter if Riis was in his ear. Spartacus may be the strongest, but Riis has proven time and again to be the smartest. Perhaps Vaughters could have served a little apprenticeship with him.
    Garmin-Cervelo were on a hiding to nothing in this race. They have three top favourites and if they don’t win, well everyone thinks they suck. I feel a little sorry for the riders but not J.V.. He could come down a peg or two in my estimation.
    Lastly – when is Chavanel going to get the respect he deserves from LeFevere? Or is it that Boonen just can’t follow team orders?

  3. Champs

    There’s no way anybody can wipe the smile off Bjarne Riis’ face for the next week.

    Vaughters had the strongest hand at the table. While it’s forgivable to lose against Cancellara and Cavendish, Nuyens is no trump.

  4. Joe

    The biggest surprise for me? Boonen’s attack. With Chavanel looking strong up the road what possible motivation could Boonen have to attack. He’s one of the strongest finishers in the group, you would think he would be happy to sit in let everybody chase his team mate. He attacked and then Cancellara followed and dropped him in no time flat. Pretty unimpressive all around on Boonen’s part.

  5. Matt

    @Joe agreed! I kept thinking that Boonen must have seen something that no one else saw. I shouted at the TV, “What are you doing?” Attacking and pulling and launching your strongest competition up to the front where you have a teammate already chugging along? Maybe he regretted not trying that when Stijn Devolder took a solo flyer and was up the road a few years ago? Maybe a gamble that obviously didn’t pan out. Can anyone explain that tactic?

  6. Adam

    An awesome race all around… Can anybody explain how the Eurosport feed was different? I could only watch the Versus coverages, which by the way was at least 50% commercials.

  7. Robot

    @Joe & Matt – Is it possible that Chavanel reported that Cancellara was cramping (as was obvious), and Peeters, in the team car, told Boonen to attack to put two on the front? Just a thought.

  8. Phil

    With this being the first time I’ve ever been able to watch a one day race as it happened (Australia is a little behind in that respect), I was hoping for something special – and I was most certainly rewarded. It was a fantastic race.

    I was pinning my hopes on Gilbert to pull off the big one. When he was keeping pace on the Muur, I thought he might have had a good chance, and when he attacked, I thought “this is it! this is IT!”. Alas, he got pulled back.

    When Boonen attacked, I (and every other cycling fan) must have thought it was the silliest thing ever. When Boonen came in 4th, not too far behind the sprint, I thought “he could have won this”. His head (or his DS’ head – whichever) wasn’t working. Chavanels had over a minute on his own at one point, and it was going up. It could have been a great long distance win (like a lot of his stages in the TDF).

    Nuyens little attack was something that seemed to sneak under the radar, and people were left looking around at each other. A very well timed move to be sure.

    I can understand why JV said what he said, but to me, as soon as he heard that Cancellara had gone, he threw his hands up in the air and was done with it. Heck, I’ve been racing and the coach of the team I was on at the time asked why I was hanging back. I told him “oh I’m not feeling good blah blah blah”. He told me to stop being a girl and get cracking. Long story short – I won that race. I think the DS should always be making plans for the win, and not just sprinting for minor placings, especially in RVV. Can you imagine that as a rider? Your DS saying don’t bother racing for the win. You can’t win it.

    Overall, it was fantastic. Lucky for me, PR is being televised live in Australia on Sunday evening. Sure, going to work Monday will be tough, but it’s worth it to see the Queen of the Classics.

  9. ken

    I have always thought that Nuyens was a contender this year after finding the right team. His earlier win a week or so back told the story. I could see that it was going to be a wide open race when I noticed the dry roads. When the favorites could not stay away no the Muur and the Bosberg then it would come down to race experience.

    Eurosport is the best cycling TV in the world, if you can get the live feed watch it.

  10. Matt

    @Robot With all the radio communication going on that we can’t hear, it’s possible that someone said something to somebody but I still don’t get it. Fabian wasn’t up with Chavanel at that point, he was with Boonen when he attacked. How would Chavanel, who was up the road, know that Fabian was cramping? Fabian was right next to Boonen in the field. We’ve seen Boonen both win and lose races with what seem like ill-timed attacks. Sometimes it pays off. At certain points in these big classics, he seems to get so excited in the moment that he can’t contain himself. At last year’s Roubaix, it was initially Boonen’s attack that launched Fabian off the front then Boonen couldn’t respond and sat up in the field. Maybe this is Fabian’s tactic – just wait ’til Boonen goes then hit out on his own.

  11. Matt

    @Robot – just realized I think we were talking about 2 different Boonen attacks. I was referring to the initial Boonen attack (I think it was in Geraardsbergen?)that launched Cancellara when Chavanel was already up the road. I think you were referring to the final 500m or so when Boonen tried to catch the trio of Chavanel, Cancellara, and Nuyens.Both questionable tactics!

    1. Padraig

      Hi All: Thanks for your comments. It was quite a race, and delightful that it could be so exciting without having to depend on a crash taking out half the field, right?

      One question for everyone unrelated to the final outcome of the race: Did anyone else think that Boonen looked awkward any time he got out of the saddle? I can’t quite put my finger on, but he looked to lack some power and balance I’m accustomed to seeing in him. Something just looked off.

  12. DavidA

    The winner Nick Nuylens is married to my Belgian ex-wifes cousin. Small world!!!! He has had good results in the past, he won’t need to buy a trappist in a cafe for the rest of his life!!!!

  13. DavidA

    @Padraig: Maybe he has not gained full strength/balance after his knee operation. Maybe alittle scared to put full weight on it yet so his pedaling is not quite there yet, just a guess…maybe needs he 1,000kms on a small fix gear next winter to get things round and smooth again.

  14. rich_mutt

    what a classic! after seeing how srong boonen’s sprint was, i can’t help but wonder if chavanel didn’t work with fabian and nuyens in the final 3K, boonen would have caught them and outsprinted them all.

  15. pb

    rich_mutt: Agreed. The criticism of Boonen seems to miss that Chavanel (i) botched his chance, (ii) botched Boonen’s chance in the process.

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