Fabian Cancellara defended his Tour of Flanders title with a stunning ride over the cobblestones to win the race’s 98th edition by a whisker ahead of BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet.
The Swiss rider’s second consecutive Ronde Von Vlaanderen triumph made him only the second non-Belgian rider to win the race on three occasions.
His ride on Sunday held the mark of a true genius when it comes to this type of race. Each segment of the 259km course was handled meticulously, each ascension of the almost-biblical cobbled climbs that make Tour of Flanders what it is was judged to perfection.
His biggest pre-race rivals – the king of Flanders Tom Boonen and the increasingly frustrating Peter Sagan – were astutely bludgeoned out of the quest for victory with moves of elegance and precision.
What Cancellara wouldn’t have been expecting was such strong and impressive company in the shape of Sep Vanmarcke, as well the sustained efforts of Stijn Vandenbergh and in particular Van Avermaet. The three aforementioned Belgians could all have taken the honours, and Cancellara even admitted to the press that he had almost been dropped on the run into the finish.
Like Sagan, Van Avermaet has become a nearly man of the one day classics, while Vandebenrgh’s fourth place is arguably he greatest achievement to date, in a palmares that is heading in the right direction.
And following his ride yesterday, Belkin’s Sep Vanmarcke has proven that his second place at Paris-Roubaix last year was no fluke. With this year’s race just six days away, he has firmly established himself as one of the favourites to take the title next week, if he can better Spartacus that is.
Beyond the four leaders, Taylor Phinney and Daryl Impey looked particularly good in the breakaway, and John Degenkolb did well to stay with the big boys for as long as he did. Bradley Wiggins recorded an impressive 32nd place, and Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff came agonisingly close to joining the lead group on the run in Oudenaarde, but a second top five in as many monuments is no mean feat. Special mention too for Bjorn Leukemans of the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team, who defied all expectations to record an excellent ninth place.
Cancellara clearly enjoyed his extraordinary victory (post-race televised beer anyone?) in a race littered with crashes, mechanical problems and general chaos. But his focus will now be on next Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, and the opportunity to become the first rider in history to win both cobbled monuments in the same year for the third time.