'07 Flanders Post-Mortem

Apr 9 2007

So I managed to miss both Wells Ave and the first 250-some-odd kilometers of the Tour of Flanders this weekend. The culprit of my absence? Belgian flu. The Belgian-style white strain, to be precise. No matter – it was a good final 6k, right? Well, not so much if you’re name’s Leif Hoste, but I feel losing that sprint’s still gotta beat getting a flag stuck in your wheel. Here is the winning bike, and unlike the last Wilier to win a Belgian classic, this one’s not a Scott.

For me (probably because I missed the first 7 hours of racing) the obvious question was “where were the favorites?” CSC claimed to be focusing on the classics this year, but other than Cance’s big attack, you didn’t see much of them. Eurosport says Boonen and Quick.Step were ready to go but an early crash allegedly killed Tommeke‘s chances. Funny – didn’t seem to hurt Luca Paolini (search “Paolini”) any. Maybe that’s why consensus is now to blame everything on the mild weather (even if some say it wasn’t all that mild).

However, I personally reject all attempts to explain “what went wrong” for the big names. What went wrong was that Alessandro Ballan kicked the living daylights out of everyone over a climb that has historically been the crux of this race course, then kept a sizable and motivated chase group at bay for the final 12k, despite a less-than-cooperative companion, and sealed the deal by winning a two-up sprint even after leading it out. All the nice weather in the world can’t outshine that performance.

I give respect grudgingly (even now, JJ Haedo is still on the waitlist). Until last Sunday, I saw Alessandro Ballan as just another mid-major rider – a guy who picks off small wins, lurks in the lead packs at the big classics, and occasionally loses a sprint to Tom Boonen. Now he’s bonafide in every sense of the word. You can bet a certain online gambling site will be shortening Ballan’s 20:1 odds dramatically come next weekend – and that a whole lot more people will be putting money on him.

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