|WHAT PRICE A HOME WIN?|
It’s not taking anything away from Stijn Devolder to say that he profited from the fact that none of the other favourites could move without his team-mate Tom Boonen reacting.
As team tactics go it was a smart move by Quick Step. They got it right simply because they had two strong riders to play with in the final 50 kilometres.
Rabobank tried as hard as they could with Sebastian Langeveld and then Juan Antonio Flecha to get across to him.
Cofidis lost Sylvain Chavanel when he went off to mark a move that had Thor Hushovd in it, and Nick Nuyens may have reflected that was a bit of a waste of a key team-mate. CSC, with Fabian Cancellara and Karsten Kroon, were the only team that looked capable of beating Quick Step but Kroon folded and Cancellara, so strong all day, suffered on the Muur, which at least proves he’s human.
It was a strong and determined move by Devolder, but the moment he attacked on his own it meant stalemate behind.
Sure, the Belgians were delighted to see their national champion win but all the suspense was in the chase mounted by Langeveld and then Flecha.
What was slightly regrettable was the number of cars and bikes around Devolder as Flecha tried to chase. It’s impossible to quantify how much of an advantage he would have gained as each bike took turns to accelerate away to the finish, but there must have been some draft to be had.
By contrast, Flecha was always filmed from behind (Devolder was filmed from the side) and there was daylight between him and the Belgian’s front wheel with not a bike or car in between.
Still, at least it wasn’t as blatant as a couple of years ago when Flecha lost out to Belgian Nico Mattan at the finish of Ghent-Wevelgem when he sat in the slipstream of a neutral service car.
|MAYHEM ON THE MOLENBERG|
We saw the Tour of Flanders on the Molenberg, the third climb of the day, and it was chaos.
Once the first dozen or so riders had passed through, it resembled the previous day’s sportive (the less said about that the better, but look out for a report on the site later this week), with riders bumping shoulders, others spinning their back wheels on the muddy cobbles, some falling sideways or grinding to a halt.
I was particularly surprised to see Philippe Gilbert so far back, looking distressed, weaving all over the place. He got a shove in the face from a Caisse d’Epargne man for his troubles.
He looked out of contention at that stage so it must have taken a heroic effort to move back up to the front, which is where we saw him when we got to the big screen in Geraardsbergen to catch up with the race.
|SPORTIVE RIDERS SHORTCHANGED|
Talking of the Tour of Flanders sportive, whoever was in charge of delivering the weather at the weekend got it the wrong way round.
We ordered the icy rain and snow for Sunday. Having said that, the weather gave the event an epic quality, even if it also meant there was a lot of very poor bike handling.
It was very frustrating that those who were walking on the cobbled hills chose to plod up the middle of the road instead of sticking to the sides.
The other irritating trait was to stop, get shouted at by half a dozen riders coming up behind and then turn and gawp at them in surprise, as if the fact there were other people in the event was a sudden shock to them.
It was a great ride, though, but for one minor disappointment.
Instead of following the race route through the town of Geraardsbergen, onto the cobbles and up through the cobbled square, we were sent on a detour, taking in the steep but smooth climb that’s been used in Het Volk in the past before turning right onto the Muur ‘proper’.
Perhaps some people were happy not to have the longer climb, but it was a shame to miss out on riding the exact route the race takes, as I’ve done every other time I’ve done the sportive.
|A TRANSFER TOO FAR?|
The Tour of Britain route was announced last week.
The first stage is an 85-kilometre super criterium in London, which will attract the crowds.
But after that, like last year, it looks like the peloton will cover more miles in the team cars than they will on the bike. The transfers are big.
At a time when the big races have come to realise that long transfers at the end of each stage stretch the riders unnecessarily, it is bucking the trend.
We know the reason for such a fragmented route- it’s because the separate regional development agencies that pay to host the race are scattered throughout the country. The race goes where the money is, it’s as simple as that.
And it’s true that the race really will be taken to the nation, visiting the south west, the north east and Scotland in the space of eight days.
But it’s a gruelling schedule, one which could see riders arriving at their hotels late.
Perhaps it’s time for the Tour of Britain to start thinking laterally in order to overcome this problem rather than stubbornly persisting with a conventional ‘tour’ itinerary.
The big ProTour teams have slowly got fed up and it remains to be seen how many of them will come back given the problems of the race in the past.
With the domestic scene growing stronger by the season, with Rapha, Pinarello and Plowman Craven at the forefront, Britain demands better.
Maybe it’s time for innovation, a different take on the stage race structure?
Why not have a mix of traditional point-to-point stages, combined with evening city centre crits and perhaps a circuit race? If the riders knew they were not racing until the following evening they wouldn’t mind a three-hour journey in the team bus.
|IT’S TOO LATE FOR CHINESE PROTESTS|
The time to get squeamish about the idea of China hosting the Olympic was seven-and-a-bit years ago when they were awarded the Games, not now.
Yes, the country has a questionable record on human rights and it needs to get its house in order over Tibet, but the Games were awarded by the IOC.
Asking individual athletes whether they’ll boycott, or trying to snuff out the flame as it makes its tedious journey from here to there to wherever, is utterly futile.
Britain does business with China. Chinese-made goods are sold in every high street in Britain but there is no call to boycott clothes or electrical goods.
Just imagine, in four years time, protests in Paris (because it’s bound to be the French) over Britain’s involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which could very well still be going on).
It was interesting to read that Norway’s Thor Hushovd said he was prepared to boycott the opening ceremony. Seeing as the opening ceremony takes place just two nights before the road race, it’s unlikely many of the road cyclists will attend anyway.
Which at least spares them the sight of a modern dance interpretation of what it means to be China in the 21st Century, accompanied by fireworks.
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