Five Thoughts From Flanders

 

Here are some thoughts on a terrific weekend of racing in Flanders.

1. Tom Boonen’s not fooling anyone.

Despite declaring Fabian Cancellara the top favorite for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Boonen’s wins in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and Ghent-Wevelgem make his comments hard to believe. Of his two victories, Boonen’s E3 victory (his record-setting fifth) is by far the more impressive of the two, as it came in an event much more akin to the Ronde. At Ghent-Wevelgem, Boonen was much more free to sit in the bunch, make the important selections, and let his team do most of the work for him. At times, there were even questions as to whether Boonen had made the leading group at all. Then again, all of Boonen’s top rivals were present in the finales of both races—the Belgian simply proved himself to be the better sprinter.

2. Filippo Pozatto is back to where he was in 2009 physically—but tactically?

After he won the E3 Prijs in 2009 it was clear to everyone that Pippo was going to be Tom Boonen’s biggest challenger at that year’s Flanders and Roubaix. Unfortunately, word never got to Pozatto that “keeping an eye on Tom Boonen” didn’t mean marking him so closely that he marked himself out of the race as well. For Pozatto that spring, being a “wheel watcher” meant much more than being a fan of Pat Sajak.

This year, if he wants to take his first win in a cobbled Monument, Pozatto will have to start racing to win—as opposed to racing to not be beaten. He’s riding for one of the strongest teams in the race with a lieutenant (Oscar Gatto) that many teams (like RadioShack-Nissan) would love to have complementing their captains. Better still, I suspect that Pozatto’s injury and subsequent (albeit brief) time off the bike means he has more form to gain. Boonen and Cancellara—the latter especially—run the risk of topping-out before the end of the cobbled fortnight. Pozatto might continue to get stronger.

3. It’s only a matter of time before Sep Vanmarcke wins Flanders, Roubaix, or both.

If the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Prijs are any indication, the budding rivalry between Vanmarcke and Boonen will be one of the highlights of the next two weeks. A smart, aggressive rider who appears undaunted by the competition, Garmin-Barracuda’s Vanmarcke has twice been the first rider to follow Boonen’s accelerations on the Taaienberg (although just barely on Friday). He’s already been named Garmin’s captain for the cobbles and with an in-form Johan Van Summeren serving as super-domestique, the American team could easily grab its second cobbled Monument in as many years. As for the 23-year-old Vanmarcke, there’s seemingly no limit to what he might achieve. He’s one of the most exiting riders of the season’s still-young spring campaign.

4. Philippe Gilbert’s Flanders is lost and he needs to act quickly if he wishes to contend in the Ardennes.

If you follow me on Twitter (@whityost), you’ve heard me say this before: Philippe Gilbert needs to skip Flanders, fly to Spain, and complete the Tour of the Basque Country if he wishes to have any chance of defending his titles in the Ardennes. Gilbert’s obviously been lacking the race mileage of his peers and could quickly gain some with a week of tough racing in Spain. Better still, he’ll avoid the media scrum of one of the world’s toughest press corps. Lastly, BMC has more than enough talent to spare the spot—especially if Thor Hushovd does indeed return to form. Like many, I am disappointed that we will not see the Belgian drie-kleur on the top step of the Ronde’s podium in Oudenaarde Sunday—especially as the course looked to suit King Phil’s style of racing.

5. If Filippo Pozatto, Sep Vanmarcke, or Tom Boonen wins the Tour of Flanders, he will likely have Oscar Gatto, Johan Van Summeren, or Sylvain Chavanel to thank for it.

History has shown that the world’s most successful one-day riders take the line with at least one teammate capable of winning the event as well. This year, Pozatto, Vanmarcke, and Boonen can rest easily knowing that they each have lieutenants capable of easing some of the pressure by covering late-race moves, putting other teams on the defensive, and ensuring that their captains won’t be isolated when the manure hits the fan. And who knows, should things go their way, we could see one Gatto, Van Summeren, and/or Chavanel on the final podium Sunday.

One final note: I’m heading to Belgium this Thursday and will be staying through Paris-Roubaix. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@whityost) for updates and insights from the thick of the action.

 

Image: Photoreporter Sirotti

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7 comments

  1. Paul I.

    One more thought – Peter Sagan will win one of these races eventually, although he is probably better suited to MSR. The kid just oozes talent, and he is multi-dimensional.

  2. Robot

    When the guys at the office ask me who I think will win an upcoming race, I tell them I have to read Whit Yost to find out what I think. Pieces like this are why.

  3. DavidA

    I see Sep Vanmarcke as the “new” Frans Verbeek. Able to win classics by sheer hard work and ripping the legs off his rivels. I would have to agree with Whit that he is probably able to win anything he sets his mind to. Also really like the classy Dwars win by Nikki Terpstra, I like him as a rider, a real “Klasbak” as they say in Holland and Belgium.

  4. Jesus from Cancun

    I am looking at Benatti as a dark horse for the following spring classics. He seems to have lost some of his sprint, but gained a lot of strenght and endurance in exchange.

  5. gmknobl

    I hope the ol’ TiVo gets whoever is covering this race as it will be quite fun to watch. This is the time of the year when I get the very real itch to go outside and ride, ride, ride because of these races. The first day I feel good (unless riding with in-shape riders) and have fun. The second day, I ache and am moving slowly. But staying indoors and riding the trainer really gets boring this time of year, when the itch hits.

    Hope I find the time so I can loose the gut.

  6. colin lewis

    I have just read your comments regarding the tour of flanders, and having worked on the race last year… and been in belgium two weeks ago, and met big Tom Boonen, I thiink that this year with the surpurlative team he has around him, if he doesnt deliver then it will be another from his “equipe” such is the depth of his Team…. can you get a message through to John Wilkcockson, who I am a great admirer of, as him and myself go back a long time… and having discovered by reccomendation your wbsite some two weeks ago, it is certainly one of the best our there, hope that you can forward this on to John… Colin Lewis, ex british pro champion, tour de france rider etc; many thanks, Colin

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