Tour of Flanders 2008 – A Study in Intimidation

Apr 7 2008

I’ve always admired Stijn Devolder’s penchant for attacking. He’s been a massively important protagonist for years in one-day races, and despite what John Wilcockson says, he’s been in contention for a classic win at least once before. And while claims that he’s a Tour contender still seem a bit unwarranted, winning the Ronde in the Belgian Champ’s kit certainly cements his legacy with a solidity it had not heretofore achieved.

That having been said, Tom Boonen won this race. Just like two years ago, he marched over the Koppenburg with all the grace a man can display in powering a bicycle over a mucky, cobbled, 25% incline. Just like two years ago, this shattered the field and gave notice – with some 70 kilometers of racing to go – that all paths to the finish must go over, under, or around Tom Boonen. And just like two years ago, Quick.Step’s flawless tactical execution send them home with the trophy.

In 2006, Discovery Channel’s Leif Hoste jumped away over the Valkenburg, 30km from the finish, much as Devolder did in yesterday’s event. But unlike Hoste, who had a practically unbeatable Tom Boonen in his wake, Devolder immediately fell back on his ace in the hole: no need to pull through when you’ve got the guy who just tap-danced up the Koppenburg wearing your kit and lurking in the chase group’s wheels.

Hoste could have played the same hand, forcing Boonen either to tow, or to drift back to a chase group in which Disco riders outnumbered any other team 2-to-1, but instead he rode a two-man time trial with the reigning World Champ, only to be righteously and predictably thrashed in a two-up sprint.

Devolder’s reticence to come around left him relatively fresh, kept Boonen fresher, served to tire his competitors, and put the impression in their minds that he was riding only for his captain. A few kilometers later, no one’s willing to burn the matches to follow the impetuous Devolder, let alone organize a chase that would essentially serve as Boonen’s personal stagecoach. 45 minutes later, we have a new Flandrian champ.

Despite the grit and agony etched on finishers’ faces, it’s clear from the 20 man pack less than 30 seconds behind the triumphant Belgian, that more effort could have been made to break this race. For all the squads milling around the front of the field, only Rabobank made serious overtures at contesting the win.

While it’s a powerful testament to the respect the peloton pays Tom Boonen, I’m hoping it also serves as inspiration and motivation for other teams that the Q.S juggernaut must more aggressively, unless they want to see it walk off with the unprecedented trifecta of Flanders, Wevelgem, and Roubaix.

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