Mar 3 2007
There’s just no way to replicate the bike racing of Belgium. Roads that wouldn’t pass for sidewalks on this side of the Atlantic, riders hopping medians, cutting onto bike paths; it’s just good stuff. Add to that a thrilling finish with lots of gutsy, late moves and you’ve got the best bike racing anywhere (IMHO).
This year’s Het Volk got underway in earnest around 50k to go, as Rabobank and new Discovery signing Steve Cummings – apparently the only Disco to have eaten his Wheaties this morning – eviscerated the early move’s three-minute cushion. Geoffroy LeQuatre (pronounced “LeCat” by Cycling.TV’s Anthony McCrossan) took a flier at the catch to showcase Cofidis’ dazzling new red kit.
Not to be outdone, Gas Billing was the next model down the runway, showing off Weisenhoff’s lovely green number, one of many (Liquigas, Unibet, Lanboucredit-Colnago, Agritubel, Credit Agricole) on display this season. But Bert Roesems in Predictor-Lotto’s daring new pink ensemble steamrolled past him at 25k to go it alone.
Discovery, meanwhile, seemingly intent on punishing their title sponsor for pulling out at the end of the year, scored a good chunk of camera time by yo-yoing fruitlessly at the back of the field. While Roesems tore up the road ahead, last year’s winner Philippe Gilbert made a move at essentially the same spot he did to secure last year’s win.
Of course, that’s no way to fool anyone, and the young Walloon ended up towing more barnacles than the USS Intrepid. No matter, as a slippery bit of muck took out the FdJ rider’s front wheel a few clicks later, allowing the field to overtake him. At 16k, Tom Boonen gave a tug, but accomplished little more than dropping Lief Hoste.
By 13k, Roesems was reeled back and CSC’s Stuart O’Grady put on the move of the race, powering away from everyone except Juan-Antonio Flecha – and to be fair, O’Grady eventually had to wait for him. Boonen made a charge a minute later, picking up some familiar names in the process: Pozzato, Nuyens and Unibet’s Baden Cooke.
Last year, this would have been an easy Boonen win. But with his former lieutenants captaining squads of their own (Liquigas and Cofidis, respectively), and a former TdF green jersey tacked to their wheels for good measure, Tornado Tom found it much harder going. At 2k, the Flecha and O’Grady were 16 seconds clear, and commentators had all but awarded the race to the Australian; a poor bit of analysis, considering the past victories of his Spanish companion.
Tactics would rule the day, however, and as Flecha and O’Grady jousted for position, the chase kept coming, cracking Cooke off on the last little rollers. Nuyens threw an attack to seal the gap just inside 1k, but his two former teammates, wisely, perhaps, just hung back and watched. The ’05 winner was soon caught in the very same cat-and-mouse morass he’d just profited from, and as he dove left to catch Flecha’s wheel, Pozzato hit the gas over on the right.
Boonen saw Pippo’s jump, reminiscent of the Italian’s move to win the ’06 Milan-Sanremo, and tried to adjust, but the gap was already too large. The chopper showed a green-and-navy streak passing the others like a motorbike, and from there, it was all a matter of how to raise the arms (Sign-of-the-Cross followed by a two-handed kiss the crowd, it would turn out). Flecha, who lead the last, fruitless chase, held off Boonen for second.
The big losers on the day were easily the Disco boys, as every other big name, and a few small ones, managed to animate or at least get someone in the break. Disco bounced back well in KBK after an embarrassing Het Volk in ’05, so it should be interesting to see what they can throw together for tomorrow. Between the off-season departures and Steegmans’ booter belly, Quick.Step also seemed a shadow of it’s former self, meaning that ’07 could be the most wide-open classics season in years.