In a Tour of Flanders repeat, a French deja vu, Fabian Cancellara simply rode away from the best classics riders on the planet. Au revoir, see you at the velodrome in Roubaix. He crushed Boonen, Flecha, Hushovd, Hoste and anyone else who managed to make the front group and dream big.
It was a dominant display of power, one that will have Tom Boonen re-examining everything about his preparation, his team, his strategy and his own abilities. Boonen is not a happy man, which means Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere is not a happy man and the formerly dominant classics squad is now under the gun.
The race essentially ended — sadly for anyone anticipating a battle to the finish — at around 45 kilometers to go. In his only moment of inattention, Boonen drifted back in the lead group to eat and survey the competition. A minute or three off Cancellera’s wheel. The Swiss champion took note and bolted immediately, creating a gap that grew exponentially. None of the other riders, as Boonen noted in his post race comments, had a rocket up their arse.
Boonen was then trapped in a chase group without a work permit. In fact, to call it a chase group would be debatable and Boonen would be the first to shout no. Except for a turn or two from Thor Hushovd, Boonen got nothing from Juan Antonio Flecha, Leif Hoste or Filippo Pozzato. They appeared happy to celebrate a top ten finish and only Boonen still had the courage to chase.
“Coming off the cobbles the gap was still [managable]. There were still four or five guys on my wheel but they said it was good, that it was better to ride for second place; I think that’s bizarre,” said Boonen. “It’s better to be with only two or three guys who’re going flat out than to be in the situation we were in. When there are two or three rotten apples, that ruins everything. It’s like the flu; it spreads very quickly.”
Boonen shook his head in disgust and must have gone through the 12 stages of Cancellara denial over the next hour. He was furious that his momentary lapse in concentration left him far from Cancellara’s wheel, depressed that he’d once again let Cancellara ride away from him and highly disgusted with guys who so quickly decided there was no reason to chase.
His quotes after the race were bitter, annoyed and baffled. As he said, first place was all that mattered and he couldn’t understand throwing in the towel so easily when a joint effort might have brought the Saxo Bank rider back.
An finally, he was desperate, wondering where he could get the same good luck charm that Cancellara had in his jersey pocket, the angel his wife and daughter had given him. If Fabian feels like selling the charm, Boonen would probably bid as high as $100,000 for the angel trinket. Maybe he had a rocket up his arse and an angel that lit the fuse. Or maybe Flecha had it right when he said, “You need balls to do that and Fabian has got them.”
When Boonen entered the velodrome there was nothing but leftovers and he was forced to sprint with Rodger Hammond for fourth place. Hammond had done no work in the final 45k and easily beat a thoroughly bummed Boonen. No disrespect to the British rider who rode a superb race but it wasn’t what Boonen had in mind when he rolled out of Compiegne six and a half hours earlier.
It was a huge team win for Saxo Bank, which did a sterling imitation of the Quick Step teams of old. They dictated the race, forced the selections and left Boonen isolated. It was text book power racing. A thunderous road greeted Cancellara as he entered the velodrome but it was probably a few decibels lower than the roar from Saxo Bank leader Bjarne Riis. Back-to-back wins in the two biggest cobbled classics should be good for a well-funded new sponsor.
“Well, it’s a good period for us at the moment,” he said. “If we’re not able to find a sponsor now, it’s going to difficult. Who doesn’t want to be a part of this? said Riis.
Meanwhile Tornado Tom will be scouring the web look that that damn angel — keywords “angel” “Paris-Roubaix charm” and wishing he was already at the Tour of California — a place far, far away from Fabian.