Peter Sagan hits the top
Peter Sagan has now established himself as one of the all-time greats. Much was made of Sagan’s run of second places in the early part of the season after he took the world road race title late last year, but all of that is now forgotten.
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Winning the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders means that Sagan has taken his first monument victory, and we can no longer refer to his ‘unrealised potential’. The manner in which he – and his Tinkoff team – took the victory was tactically perfect. Of course, it was a plan that relied on Sagan having the firepower in reserve to keep Fabian Cancellara at bay in the finale. And he delivered.
Real champions aren’t just winners. Yes, Sagan still has his cheeky-boy air and rock-star looks – and we wouldn’t have it any other way – but he has matured in the past 12 months. The crowd-pleasing wheelie victory celebration was there, but it came after he crossed the line. It was for fun rather than rub-it-in-your-face showboating.
Sagan was quick to dedicate his win to Antoine Demoitié and Daan Myngheer, the two riders who lost their lives last weekend. For the home crowd in Belgium, and for others around the world, it was a thoughtful gesture that harked back to his world championships dedication to the migrant crisis.
Watch: Tinkoff sports director explains how Peter Sagan won the Tour of Flanders
Flanders says good bye to Cancellara
There may have been no dream win for Fabian Cancellara in his last outing in the Tour of Flanders, but as he crossed the line in Oudenaarde he still raised his hands aloft and waved to the vast crowd. It was a farewell wave to the race that he has won on three occasions, and was reciprocated by loud cheers from the spectators who recognise one of the leading talents in the sport’s history.
There was no muted, end-of-career performance from the Swiss Trek-Segafredo rider. Cancellara lit the afterburners on the Oude Kwaremont climb, passing many of his rivals. He then did the same on the Paterberg, catching and passing all but Sagan. For several minutes it looked like Cancellara was going to do it, but in the end Sagan was the stronger rider.
Cancellara wholeheartedly congratulated Sagan on the podium, smiling broadly and shaking his hand. It was almost as if Cancellara was passing the baton on to the man who is nine years his junior, and seemed happy to do so.
Erviti’s big day out
A Spanish rider has never won the Tour of Flanders, but there was a Spanish rider who made his mark on the 2016 edition of De Ronde – Imanol Erviti.
On a day when you would possibly expect Spanish team Movistar to put in a quiet performance, Erviti spent five of the race’s six hours in the lead group of the race. He was a constant factor in the escape group, despite numerous changes in its composition as riders were dropped or joined in.
The Tour of Flanders is a tough race, so to be at the leading edge for almost its entire duration and still finish in seventh place is something of a revelation. At 32 years old you could hardly call the double Vuelta a España stage winner a future Classics contender, but he proved that he could keep up with the best on the cobbles and bergs. All day long.
BMC’s mass crash
Home favourite Greg Van Avermaet was cruelly denied a chance to add a Tour of Flanders victory to list his of 2016 successes after he was felled in a crash involving a number of his team-mates. Van Avermaet was brought down in a tumble of riders on the right-hand-side of the peloton, and it was quickly apparent that he was not going to continue the race.
The Belgian sat in the gutter crying and clutching his arm, as his BMC team-mates were scattered around him. His fractured collarbone not only spelt the end of his Flanders, but also any hope of contesting the remaining races this spring, including next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix.
Van Avermaet wasn’t the only contender to be forced to withdraw due to crash injury: Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ) also quit after crashing.
It was, however, great to see American Taylor Phinney continue his comeback with the team, avoiding the crash and finishing the race in the first large group of riders that came home seven minutes behind Sagan.
Race vehicles still causing controversy
Much attention has been paid to race vehicles putting riders in danger during races in recent months after a string of incidents. Sadly, this appeared to continue at the Tour of Flanders after an Etixx-QuickStep car hit a mechanic.
The mechanic had stopped to assist riders caught up in a crash, and as the Etixx team car drove slowly through the narrowed road, it struck the mechanic, knocking him over. Then the car appeared to start driving over the mechanic, leaving him to bang frantically on the bonnet to get the driver’s attention.
Work still needs to be done to ensure the safety of riders, staff and spectators in relation to race vehicles.