Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Holy toledo - what a race! There was so much excitement in this year's edition of Tour of Flanders! Unbelievable! The peloton exploded, regrouped, exploded, regrouped, until it whittled down to maybe 20 riders or so. What made this year spectacular is that the riders who finished at the front this year were those who were showing their faces throughout the whole day! In the end, a guy originally intended to be a domestique for Tom Boonen crossed the line first. He is current Belgian National Champion Stijn Devolder.

Devolder was originally told to attack to take the pressure off Boonen so he and his team didn't have to work at the front. And once the peloton caught Devolder, the plan was to use him as a springboard for boonen. It was a plan that could have worked perfectly, but we'll never know.

When the peloton caught Devolder, he immediately attacked the group again at a distance of twenty-something KM from the finish! Boonen then became the super-domestique, squelching any moves of the riders to bridge to Devolder. To drag Boonen up to the finish line would be suicide - or at least it would be an easy way to put yourself down a spot on the rankings since he can normally outsprint just about anyone in the field (his teammate Steegmans wasn't there - haha.)

Watching Devolder repeatedly die and come back to life while the rest of the peloton took turns burying themselves to bridge the gap was really exciting. I found myself alternating between blowing at the TV and pushing my elevated foot towards it in an effort to help propel Devolder forward.

Most belgians I suppose don't care which belgian wins - as long as it's a belgian. But there's something special about a Belgian winning the grandest of all Belgian races in the National Champion jersey. I remember when he won the jersey last year, many people were saying he was just lucky and that Boonen should have won. His actions today was proof that his jersey was no fluke. In fact, I think he too needed confirmation because, as he crossed the line, he pulled at his belgian champion jersey to show it off to the crowd. If i were a sensitive kind of gal, I would have found myself teary-eyed by his gesture. He had the opportunity to prove to the naysayers that he is deserving of the respect that comes with the jersey. And he won it in an exceptionally classy style.

On the flipside, I unfortunately witnessed one of the worst looking crashes I've ever seen. A spanish racer named Angel Gomez of Saunier Duval - Scott rode right into one of those treacherous tree islands planted in the middle of the road. It seems to be a fairly new belgium/holland thing to plant trees in the middle of the street - on BOTH SIDES - to discourage auto drivers from speeding. Instead what it has done was piss a lot of people off. They have caused crashes for both cyclists and autos, back up traffic, and upset families living next to these islands; every time a car has to stop to let a car in the opposite direction pass, he then must rev the car to get it going again. If you have over a hundred cars stopping and starting in front of your house around the clock, you'd get tired of it too.

Anyway, Gomez must have had his head down, didn't see the official waving the bright yellow flag, and smacked the concrete border around the tree while traveling at least 45kph (almost 30mph.) From the impact, both he and his bike broke in half. He landed a little more than 3 meters (around 10 feet) past the tree, accompanied by his folded front wheel with fork attached. The rest of his bike landed across the street. Latest TV reports are that he broke his femur and elbow. That really sucks!!

On a side note, a few of the favorites didn't have a great day. Lief Hoste's rear deraileur broke off and landed in his rear wheel. Since it happened on one of the tiny cobbled climbs, he had to wait a very long time for a spare bike. Philip Gilbert also had bike troubles and he hit his knee on his handlebars. When asked if the strongest guy one the race today, Gilbert responded, "I don't know. I didn't see the race." I thought that was pretty funny.
Fabian Cancellara of CSC brought up a good point that always plays a major role in a race like this. He said that he felt that there was nothing more he could do today to win because he was one of the pre-race favorites. Every time he tried to do something, someone was on his wheel.

Well, that's my take of the race today.

Thanks for reading.


chr15 tree said...

Nice resume of the race. What a race huh. I'll wager the Belgians have their TV coverage of bike racing down to fine art so I'm not surprised that you'd prefer to catch the race on TV than out on the course maybe at best catching half a dozen glimpses. For me it was the text update service on, (bitter, me??? I don't subscribe to Eurosport and Cycling coverage - except of course the World's - is non-existant in the UK) actually it is pretty exciting, without the visual to 'fill in the gaps' the anticipation waiting for the next sentance is crazy!

It was good to see the usual names all up there in the final break, but Devolder had some legs on him! Nothing like that to silence the naysayers!

Like you, I can't help thinking that his constant attacking was to draw the fire from Boonen and when it was looking like he could/would win he gritted his teeth and held on! A gamble that paid off for Quick Step even if it wasn't for Boonen...

There is still next week... and who knows, maybe Boonen held something in reserve???

PEANUT said...

From watching it live, you can clearly tell that boonen (literal translation is beans by the way) had some reserve left. He was a very very effective team player in the race. Rather textbook actually.
And based on what i understood of the interview afterwards, devolder and boonen both agreed that the plan was to work for boonen. By jumping off the front, boonen has the pressure taken off so he can springboard off of devolder when the group engulfs him. The original plan was never for devolder to win. Cool, huh. coverage is pretty good i must say. Sometimes when i can't quite figure out what they are saying in flemish on the TV , i'll open to see what they write about that specific incident.

Anonymous said...

How do you know what Quickstep was planning to do in the race?

PEANUT said...

I only know what quickstep team manager, boonen and devolder said in their post-race interviews on TV.

erikv said...

It was obvious what Quickstep's plan was. Well said, Peanut. I enjoyed the race, too.

Cheflandria said...

it's interesting about the original plan...

but then it was clear that Devoulder was the strongest guy that day

did you hear or read any interview from Tom about the original plan and how they decided that Devoulder should go for it?

Flecha did awesome in trying to catch Devoulder but a little too late...

great report! hope you can do Roubaix as well

chr15 tree said...

[quote] chefladria:
but then it was clear that Devoulder was the strongest guy that day

So great to see the guy was was making the moves all day end up with the prize!!!

[quote] chefladria:
great report! hope you can do Roubaix as well


goat said...

Great recap of the race. I was only able to listen to it on the laptop - extremely exciting - one of the best races to listen to ever! Wish I could have been there, you lucky dog.