Fabian Cancellara issued a warning shot to his rivals ahead of the cobbled classics by brilliantly soloing to victory in today’s E3 Harelbeke in Belgium.
The Radioshack-Leopard rider attacked from a select group on the Oude Kwaremont with 35 kilometres remaining, and never looked like being caught.
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Britain’s Geraint Thomas finished fourth having been in a five-man group that tried in vain to catch Cancellara. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) took second, with BMC’s Daniel Oss finishing third.
“It is never easy. I’m not a pure sprinter or a pure climber, so I have to do what I have to do,” he said about his attack.
“It feels like home. I love these races, I love these parcours and I did my job. The goal was to win. How I did that was not important, I just had to win.
“I played the right game. I knew there were too many Omega riders, which is why I knew I had to make the first selection.”
This victory was classic Cancellara, and replicated his long-range attacks that proved successful in the 2011 edition of E3 and Paris-Roubaix the year before.
He had been active before his race-winning move, getting himself into a break that formed on the Taaienberg and included three Omega Pharma-Quick Step (including Tom Boonen) and two Sky riders.
Sagan and his Cannondale squad missed the move, but a frantic chase involving four of the Slovak’s team-mates brought it back within six kilometres.
However, a frantic 15 minutes ensued as the peloton split dramatically after Cannondale’s chasing.
Cancellara – the sole Radioshack rider in contention – stayed among the leaders at all times and launched his unstoppable attack at the bottom of the Kwaremont.
Thomas and Sagan made it into the first chase group, which at first included three Omega Pharma riders (Sylvain Chavanel, Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh) out of seven.
Instead of using their numerical advantage to chase Cancellara, Stybar and Vandenbergh were sent back in an attempt to help five-time E3 winner Tom Boonen, who was in the second chasing group.
The move backfired, as Boonen had an off day and the Chavanel group fell further behind the lone leader.
Without any real impetus behind, Cancellara was able to extend his advantage to over a minute with 20 kilometres remaining and crossed the line 68 seconds ahead of Sagan.
Boonen may have won the sprint for seventh, but with a week to go until the Tour of Flanders, he won’t be alone in wondering if Cancellara is back to his irresistable best.
E3 Harelbeke 2013: Harelbeke to Harelbeke, 211km
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Radioshack-Trek
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale at 1-04
3. Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC
4. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at st.
5. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge at 1-08
6. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at st.
7. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 2-15
8. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
10. Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Europcar
23. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky at st.
70. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 9-46
Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen head escape group
Fabian Cancellara goes solo
Geraint Thomas heads the chase group
Fabian Cancellara wins