Analysis of the good and bad after the Queen of the Classics
Cancellara’s spring conquest
“Mission accomplished” announced RadioShack-Leopard in a post
Paris-Roubaix press release without even any hint of irony. But after
the travails of 2012 and Cancellara's injury hit spring last year, it’s
hard for even the most devout Boonen fans to begrudge Cancellara his
dues this time.
At E3 Harelbeke he was dominating, at the Tour of Flanders he was
merciless, then at Paris-Roubaix he was calculating and incisive.
Knowing that he’d be watched like a hawk Cancellara set out phase one
of his Paris-Roubaix game plan early, using up teammates in the first
half of the race in a bid to negate the threat of 2011 when a group was
given too much room.
Each escape was given two minutes or less and when Cancellara’s men
disappeared off the front, phase two began. A testing acceleration burnt
off the likes of Hushovd, Boasson Hagen and Chavanel (who was forced to
change bikes and chase) and brought a number of other contenders into
He was then able to measure who was a genuine threat but perhaps his
best play came when he drifted back to the team car to liaise with Dirk
Demol. Half the lead pack carried on racing – like they should – but
Boom, Eisel and Terpstra slowed too. It provided the opportunity to
eliminate a further three rivals with one attack and once Cancellara
started carving through the groups it was simply a matter of who could
Is it time to rebuild Omega Pharma-Quick Step?
If team manager Patrick Lefevere is looking for positives aspects to
away from Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s difficult spring campaign, he should
look to the promising performances of Zdenek Stybar, Michal Kwiatkowski
and Stijn Vandenbergh. They all showed huge potential for the future.
For all of Tom Boonen’s past success and his many comebacks, he can’t
go on forever and 2013 may be seen as a blessing in disguise for
Lefevere, giving him the opportunity to see which of his riders can
develop into team leaders.
The Belgian super team still has a number of issues to resolve, not
least their faulty lead outs for Mark Cavendish. However with the
Belgian transfer market well underway, the most pressing task for
Lefevere will be deciding whether and where the team needs strengthening
for the 2014 season. It is time to start looking for the next Tom
Vanmarcke saves Blanco blushes
Heading in Paris-Roubaix, Blanco led a long list of teams desperate
for a big result and in Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke the Dutch squad had
better than average hopes of a podium.
Both played roles in the race, escaping with the main group of
favourites inside the final 60 kilometres after fine work from Maarten
Wynants and Robert Wagner.
Boom marked Cancellara and simply couldn’t respond when the
RadioShack rider started to eliminate the opposition. Vanmarcke was more
inventive and used both luck and talent to seize the initiative,
jumping clear with Stijn Vandenbergh.
It was one of the most tactically astute plays in the race, the Blanco
rider knowing that the Omega Pharma-Quick Step man would tow him along
under the unquestionable orders of Lefevere, while Cancellara would have
to make a significant effort to join them.
There was a little wobble when Cancellara accelerated on the
Carrefour de l'Arbre, and Stybar briefly looked stronger, but Vanmarcke
became Cancellara’s final rival on merit alone and it was testament to
the threat he held in so much as Cancellara attacked before the finish
in an attempt to dodge the sprint.
Considering Vanmarcke could barely stand three weeks ago after
injuring his knee in Tirreno-Adriatico and that he hobbled through
Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders, his Roubaix results stands up as one of the
memorable rides this spring.
Spare a thought for Rabobank who weren’t able to celebrate after having shelled out on signing Vanmarcke from Garmin.
Blanco are still negotiating with a number of international parties
in their search for sponsorship but after Roubaix, Vanmarcke’s agent
will also one fielding several important calls.
Having signed a two-year deal Vanmarcke is in the driving seat. If
Blanco find a replacement sponsor, the situation is dandy. Should Plugge
and his staff fail, Vanmarcke will not only be paid the final year of
his current deal in full but he’ll also pick up a cheque from his new
team. Some teams may use that as bargaining chip to undercut the rider
but there should be enough teams to ensure that Vanmarcke receives his
true market value.
Sky’s got talent
It’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly where Team Sky went wrong
this spring, such were the numerous mistakes the team made. From
dithering over leadership, to Geraint Thomas’ poor positioning at key
points in Flanders and Roubaix, one of the most heavily backed and
professional teams in the peloton were left disappointed with just Matt
Hayman’s podium in Dwars Door Vlaanderen to celebrate.
It’s arguable that the team has regressed in terms of rider talent.
The arrival of Gabriel Rasch, Luke Rowe, Salvatore Puccio haven’t
improved the unit as a whole and the loss of Juan Antonio Flecha,
although a limited rider himself, rules out an experienced set of legs
who can grind out results.
Edvald Boasson Hagen is perhaps the most disappointing of all.
Before Peter Sagan was pulling wheelies across finish lines and
harassing podium girls there was “Eddy B”, a rider considered by
teammates, managers and commentators as the next great rider of his
Boasson Hagen’s career has been far from a failure but his persistent
no shows in the major Classics should be a major concern for Team Sky.
While it is obvious to point to Sky’s Tenerife training as the root of
all their problems, the answer could simply be that too many of their
riders lack major Classic experience or simply aren’t good enough.
Is it time for more barriers along the cobbles?
Seeing both Stijn Vandenbergh and Zdenek Stybar hit the deck at speed
after tangling with roadside spectators sparked anger on Twitter, with
the fans along the race route being blamed for ruining the two rider's
chances of fighting for victory with Cancellara and Vanmarcke.
In truth the riders are as much to blame for their downfall, opting
to ride on the narrow strip of dirt alongside the cobbles, rather than
on the more uncomfortable crown of the road.
It can be argued that fans should stay out of the way or that riders
should stay on the cobbles. The only way to ensure that crashes don’t
happen in future is to greatly increase the sections of pave protected
by crowd barriers.
It is impossible to have barriers along all the 50km of pave but the riders, the race and the fans need better protection.
Pozzato personifies Italy's woes
Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) completed a full set of disappointing
Classics results, finishing 22nd at Paris-Roubaix, a significant 2:52
behind Cancellara and Vanmarcke.
The Italian has had a dire spring despite being the well-paid, well
protected designated team leader at Lampre-Merida. Pippo was unable to
stay with the key contenders over the top of the Poggio at Milan-San
Remo, struggled in the Flemish races and crashed due to poor positioning
Since his ban for working with Dr. Michele Ferrari, Pozzato has won
races, including the Trofeo Laigueglia but claimed he felt 'empty' in
the big races, unable to be in the action after 200km of racing.
With Pozzato under performing, Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing Team)
out after his training accident, and the lesser lights all failing to
shine, it was up to 36-year-old veteran Luca Paolini to save Italy's
spring. He was only 21st at Paris-Roubaix but was in the front group
until a puncture sent him backwards.
He won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and was fifth in Milan-San Remo. However
an Italian has now not won Paris-Roubaix since Andrea Tafi in 1999 and
any monument Classic since Damiano Cunego won the Tour of Lombardy in
2008. As Gazzetta dello Sport pointed out, that's a lifetime ago for Italian cycling.
Taylor Phinney summed up BMC’s situation perfectly after crossing the
line in Roubaix on Sunday: "It's always hard in a team like this to all
be motivated for one single goal and one single rider,” he said.
Already one of the most quotable riders in the pack Phinney cut
through the nonsense and highlighted the cornerstone of BMC cobbled
failures – they don’t know who they are riding for.
Starting the spring campaign with Thor Hushovd as a genuine leader
should have been an unthinkable move because no matter how much team
backer Andy Rihs paid for the 2010 World Champion rider, he’s no longer
the force he once was. In fact he was already on the decline during his
one season with Garmin, when two stage wins at the Tour, papered over
the fact that his legs were slowing. Health problems last year have only
compounded the problem.
Hushovd has failed to deliver a top 10 in any major Classic while
Greg Van Avermaet and Phinney have improved to the point where they can
both lay claim to hierarchal supremacy over Hushovd.
Until BMC’s management wake up to the fact that after 250 kilometres
reputation counts for nothing, they’ll continue to make the same
As for Avermaet, he stepped in to fill the shoes of Ballan, saving
the team with a string of pleasing performances: fifth at Omloop, sixth
in Strade Bianche, third in Gent-Wevelgem, seventh in Flanders and
fourth at Paris-Roubaix, make him one of the most consistent riders this
Sylvain Chavanel: OPQS's unprotected team leader
Far less talented riders than Sylvain Chavanel have and will win
monuments but at 34 it’s hard to see the Frenchman having a better
chance of opening his classics account and rectifying the glaring whole
in his palmares than this year.
Even with Boonen wrapped in bandages for much of the spring, Omega
Pharma-Quick Step clung to hope that he would recover in time for the
Tour of Flanders.
When the crashed out, the team failed to back one single rider
(Chavanel), instead changing the team’s DNA and going with a number of
options. It almost paid off in Roubaix with Stybar the race’s revelation
and Stijn Vandenbergh a heavy animator. But when the time came for
Chavanel to stand up he was left trailing with a mechanical. By the time
he’d recovered the race was long gone, with his teammates contributing
to Chavanel's woes by working up front and going on the attack.
Article Source: Cycling News