Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara won the Tour of Flanders today in Meerbeke, Belgium, thanks to a solo attack on the Muur-Kapelmuur and the work of his ever-present Saxo Bank team. He dropped his last rival, two-time Flanders winner Tom Boonen, on the cobbled climb and rode solo over the final 15 kilometres.
“It is really special, it was my perfect scenario,” said Cancellara. “The gladiator won the battle.”
The gladiator’s attack on the Muur came after he attacked and rode away with Boonen on the Molenberg, 44 kilometres out. As the two reached the Muur’s chapel, 200 metres before the top, Cancellara accelerated away, seated in his saddle as Boonen laboured, standing on his pedals.
“It was not really planned, even what I did on the Molenberg was not planned,” continued Cancellara. “There were so many people on the Muur, I could hardly understand where Tom was. When I finally looked back, I understood I had some distance.”
Cancellara’s win makes him the only active cyclist with three wins in cycling’s five Monuments: Milan-San Remo (2008), Paris-Roubaix (2006) and Tour of Flanders (today). He misses only Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Tour of Lombardy, which he plans to target in the coming years.
Saxo Bank delivered Cancellara to the win after an eight-man escape dominated the first half of Flanders. Nicolas Rousseau (AG2R La Mondiale), José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d’Epargne), Michele Merlo (Footon-Servetto), Olivier Bonnaire (Française des Jeux), Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha), David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet), Floris Goesinnen (Skil-Shimano) and Joost Van Leijen (Vacansoleil) gained over nine minutes by kilometre 100.
Sky relied on Michael Barry and Norwegian Champion Kurt Arvesen to control the escape for leader Juan Antonio Flecha after the first climb, Den Ast. They worked together with Cancellara’s Saxo Bank team.
After the Den Ast, Kluisberg and Knokteberg, the eight only had a 1’30″ advantage at the base of the first cobbled climb, the Oude Kwaremont.
Saxo Bank’s Matti Breschel led up the Paterberg, pulling away team-mate Cancellara, Boonen, Flecha, George Hincapie (BMC Racing), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo Test Team), Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Steve Chainel (Bbox Bouygues Telecom). They were just ahead of the others at the base of the Koppenberg, where Boonen followed Breschel.
Sky’s Ian Stannard took up the lead heading to the Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg climbs. More and more riders fell behind the group over the climbs. Geraint Thomas and Mathew Hayman helped Stannard work over the Eikenberg climb, where the escapee’s day ended at 59 kilometres to race.
Cancellara made the first big step towards victory on the Molenberg. He attacked and rode clear with Boonen, gaining five seconds at the top of the climb.
Cycling’s power duo had 18 seconds with 40 kilometres and five climbs – Leberg, Berendries, Tenbosse, Muur-Kapelmuur and Bosberg – to cover. David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) led the chase behind Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Hincapie, Stijn Devolder and Flecha.
Millar attacked solo and pulled clear Gilbert and Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) on the Berendries. They chased at 42 seconds behind at the base of the Muur-Kapelmuur, 1’00″ ahead of the group with Flecha. But Millar lost ground on the Muur, leaving only Gilbert and Leukemans to chase.
“I ran out of energy, I didn’t have energy or bottles for a while,” explained Millar. “It’s a very beautiful race, but I was too f**ked to even notice the crowds. However, it’s the first time I’ve ridden it, or finished it, and I’m happy.”
Ahead, Cancellara lived the Flanders dream, attacking and dropping Boonen with 200 metres to the top of the Muur. Boonen, head bobbing, trailed by 40 seconds by the base of the Bosberg and 1’15″ at the finish.
Gilbert finished third at 2’11″, just ahead of Leukemans. American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) led home the next group at 2’35″.
Britain’s top finisher was Classics specialist Roger Hammond (Cervelo) in seventh, just behind Farrar.
2010: Tour of Flanders
2008: Milan-San Remo
Fabian Cancellara’s full list of wins>>
Tour of Flanders 2010
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank 259km in 6-25-56
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step at 1-15
3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 2-11
Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil at 2-15
5. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions at 2-35
6. George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team
7. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo
8. Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz) Astana
9. Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini
10. William Bonnet (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom all same time.