The overwhelming favorite and reigning champion of Flanders almost won. The Frenchman, Eddy Merckx’s dark horse pick, almost won. The hard charging rider from Omega Pharma almost won.
Despite giving it everything in today’s Tour of Flanders, Fabian Cancellara, Sylvain Chavanel and Philippe Gilbert missed the victory. It was Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank) who rode the perfect race and took the biggest win of his career.
Team manager Bjarne Riis screamed with joy in the Saxo-mobile. How sweet is that for a guy who lost Cancellara and his classics team to Leopard only to win Flanders with a rider many people thought was a cast-off? And beat Spartacus in the bargain.
“I’ll need some time before it sinks in. It’s special because I didn’t have a great day and ran into a lot of bad luck,” Nuyens said. “I know that I’m not the best rider of all, but I also know that if I have a good day, they have to take me into account.”
This edition of Flanders was flat-out awesome, unpredictable, dramatic and unexpected. First, Quick Step’s Chavanel blows the race apart with an attack on the Oude-Kwaremont, with 170km still to go. The man is fearless and reeks of old-school panache. France should be proud.
Then Cancellara stuns everyone with a surprise attack a whopping 40km from the finish. Alarm bells went off, full battle stations and widespread panic as everyone from Boonen to Gilbert to Flecha tries to catch the Swiss champion.
We could almost hear the “Goddamn it, not this time, not again” rising from the peleton as entire teams went to the front to catch Cancellara. They were simply not going to allow him to embarrass them again. That or the Leopard star simply had an unexpected power-outage. They clawed him back with team BMC doing the lion’s share of the work.
On the Bosberg climb, it was time for Gilbert to make his trademark move. He gets his gap but it ain’t much as Ballan gives chase, then Cancellara himself pulls the Belgian back. The damage is serious however and with ten kilometers left, there are a dozen riders left including Nick Nuyens — who is starting to feel pretty good about his podium chances.
Meanwhile the scorecard starts to fill in. Filippo Pozzato invisible, the Garmin-Cervelo three headed monster silent and unlucky again. Ballan and Hincapie riding strong but missing that final gear. Stinj Devolder wandering around the course lost and eating a bag of frites. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) wishing his achilles tendon was ready to race.
With only four kilometers left, Cancellara and Boonen watch each other closely but when Sebastian Langeveld attacks, it’s the Swiss rider who blows by the Rabobank rider, taking Chavanel and Nuyens along. Instant podium as Boonen and Flecha chase, too little, too late.
Cancellara put his head down, expecting to win, imposing his dominant will. An exhausted Chavanel still has one final attack left in his dead legs. Almost and nearlys, second and third. It’s Nuyens who out-sprints them both. Overwhelming joy for the Belgian and delicious revenge dinner plater for Riis.
“It showed that superman can have weak moments too. I had cramps,” Cancellara said. “Probably I didn’t drink enough. This was like a summer day in Flanders and everybody expected rain. I asked Sylvain to help me. If he helped me we could go to the finish line, but they played for Boonen.”
Bad call on that one as Chavanel was the first to admit after seeing the final results. “I’m sorry that I didn’t work with him. I have a good sprint so I had my chances but we have Tom for the sprint,” Chavanel said. No, you have Boonen for fourth place.
Philippe Gilbert had the full body cramp — he’d done everything he could except win. “People were attacking one another, looked at one another, speeding up, slowing down and I was a little tired,” he said. “I didn’t sprint, I was dead,” he laughed. “I could hardly get out of the saddle, I had cramps everywhere.”
There’s a new King in Flanders, Nuyens was not only good, but lucky. “They say I’m good in that sort of stuff. There was a little bit of time to gamble in the sprint. I knew I could beat Cancellara but I was unsure about Chavanel,” Nuyens said. “I was on a too small gear. I saw something blue on my right and for a brief moment a Hoste-scenario [Leif Hoste defeated by Alessandro Ballan in 2007] flashed through my head. When I shifted up I felt I had dash left and I think I rode a professional sprint.”
The Angry Eagles take the big win and Alberto Contador was quick on the tweet. Yeeeeeeesssssssssss!!!!! Congratulations to Nick Nuyens!!! Siiiiiiii enhora buena Nick, impresionante victoria para SaxoBank-Sungard!
Okay, everybody get a shower, some rest and head to Paris-Roubaix.