I cooked up a little Belgian fare for my family yesterday morning in honor of the country that’s taken more Paris-Roubaix wins than any other. But when Tom Boonen faltered mid-way through the race (punctures, crashes, ugh what a day for Tommeke), it looked like the Belgians’ chances at celebrating another storied win was all but shot.
Turns out it was a Belgian after all. Just not the one we expected. Johan van Summeren rode away with it at Paris-Roubaix yesterday, giving the American team Garmin-Cervelo a much needed Classics win. While all eyes in the final break were on Fabian Cancellara, Summeren’s teammate Thor Hushovd, Alessandro Ballan, and Juan Antonio Flecha (among others), Summeren took everyone by surprise by motoring away on the Carrefour de l’Arbe section of cobbles. Come to find out, his rear tire was almost completely flat as he entered the velodrome alone to take the victory. Well fought and deserved winner of the Queen of the Classics.
All eyes were on Cancellara who’s proven over the past few years to be the best Classics rider of this generation. This fact ensures that he’ll always have the biggest target on his back. Late in the race, it was easy to see everyone in the break watching his every move. And with good reason. He initiated every chase and, like Flanders last week, managed to ride the strongest riders in the world off his wheel. Always a great interview, Fabian said this before the race:
I just want to ride my bike. Live the passion from the race. It’s gonna be hard, it’s gonna be tough, but I think I’m ready. I’ll just do my best with my team ’til the finish line…but in this race you never know in which corner anything can happen. We’ll race our race and do what we can until we die.
That pretty much sums up this man and the way that he races. If you watched Cancellara’s late race heroics, bridging up to the break, dragging the pack along, and then storming off on his own again, it’s clear that he never says die. I think this is what makes him such a compelling figure. In situations like that, most team directors and riders would concede, sit in, get too tactical, and wait for the race to come to them. Remember Garmin’s team instructions to “race for third” at Flanders last week? Not Cancellara. He’s such an exciting and prolific winner because when he decides to lay it all out there, he commits and throws down. He’s a man of his word. No looking back and he fights to the end.
There were so many stories evolving in yesterday’s race, I’ll leave it to the news websites to report all the details. But here are a few moments that stood out to me:
- Boonen needing a bike change in the Forest of Arenberg. Ugh. Watching him stand there while his chances to win disappeared up the road was agonizing. With the narrow stretch of cobbles closed to cars, is there a worse place in any bike race to have a mechanical?
- Crashes. It seemed everyone went down at some point. And not just on the cobbles. Guys were flying around the pavement on straight, flat sections of road. I guess it happens to the pros too. When you’re at your limit for hours on end and can’t see straight, the details like road furniture, curbs, and the wheel in front come up fast.
- Sylvain Chavanel went down hard. The camera left him in his agony lying on the side of the road. Surely his day was done. A few minutes later, the moto camera shows him driving hard, the left side of his body torn to shreds. That guy’s got class and fight in him.
- Obviously, Cancellara. He chased from 1:50 down to 19 seconds back and when the dust finally settled, he walked away with 2nd place.
- George Hincapie lost out again. An untimely puncture, a desperate chase, and poor positioning when the leaders made their move left George dangling off the back. Again. Hoping he comes back for just one more year.
- The winner came from an early break! Sometimes the first moves in bike races matter a lot. Early race tactics actually played out the way all those guys fighting to get in the break in the first 100k dream about. And Summeren reaped the rewards of what he probably thought was just a “team move” to play out later for his team leader, Hushovd. Goed gedane, Johan.
The first two weeks of April sure haven’t disappointed. For my money, these races are the heart of the pro cycling season. I love the pageantry and big stage of the Grand Tours but the northern Classics give us pictures of heart, guts, and determination that can’t be found anywhere else. Makes me want to go ride my bike.