A Victory Snatched: Tour of Flanders 2011

Photo: Fotoreporter SirottiThis is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

In another spectacular race of the 2011 season, the Tour of Flanders delivered an edition which many said was the most exciting they’d watched in recent years.Despite having faced criticism for what some perceived as his lack of attacking style in the past years, Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard) outsprinted race favorites Fabian Cancellara and Sylvian Chavanel to take the win at Tour of Flanders.

The first break got away at 55km with Roger Hammond (Garmin-Cervelo), Jeremy Hunt (Sky), Stefan van Dijck (Veranda’s Willems), Mitchell Docker (Skil-Shimano) and Sebastien Turgot (Europcar). At 80km, they had 6 minutes which is when both Leopard Trek and Omega Pharma-Lotto worked to protect their leaders (Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert, respectively) and chase down the lead group. They drove the pace and fractured the peloton.

Kwaremont climb shapes the race

It was on the Kwaremont where the race really developed. Sylvan Chavanel (Quick Step) went off the front of the peloton, and, along with Simon Clark (Astana), made it to the lead group, which by then had reduced to three, with Hunt and van Dijck having been dropped. On the Koppenberg, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Loto) was able to attack and bridge up the lead group, but by that time, Cavanel and Clark had dropped the original break and were off the front on their own. Over the next few climbs, there was attack after attack, with nothing sticking. It wasn’t until the Haaghoek climb at the 42km to go mark that an attack was able to get away. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) pulled away, marked immediately by Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha). As the three blew past a chasing group of five up the road, Boonen got caught behind as the road tightened and Cancellara was gone.

Cancellara’s Time Trial

Cancellara quickly caught Chavanel and Clark, but only Chavanel was able to keep the big Swiss’ wheel, where he stayed until the end. Chavanel’s presence up the road stopped Quick Step from trying to bring the break back. In addition, the presence of Chavanel’s team mate Boonen’s presence in the chasing group stopped Chavanel from helping Cancellara extend their lead. Trying to do a repeat of his win last year, where he time trialled to a solo win, Cancellara set off down the road without a glance behind him. However, Chavanel was not to be dropped and hung onto his wheel.

It was here where BMC put in a huge effort to bring the two breakaway riders back, with some help from Vacansoleil-DCM.

Time trial shut down

The gap stayed at around a minute until the two leaders hit the Muur. It was there that Cancellara’s dream of a repeat solo win was well and truly laid to rest. Gilbert, Boonen, Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and Bjorn Luekemans (Vanansoleil-DCM) made contact with the two in the lead, and with a group of seven nipping at their heels, Gilbert attacked on the Bosberg. He was only able to get a handle of seconds lead over the chasing five man group of Cancellara, Ballan, Leukemans, Chavanel, and Staf Scheirlinckx (Veranda’s Willems-Accent), and wasn’t able to stay away. This group of six was quickly joined by a second chase group which included Nuyens, Boonen, and George Hincapie (BMC). At 6km from the line, the attacks started.

Finish line attacks

First, Ballan attacked and Gilbert shut him down. Juan Antonia Flecha and Geriant Thomas (Sky) went- no luck. Sebestian Langeveld (Rabobank) went, shut down by Ballan. Then, Cancellara went, followed quickly by Chavanel and Nuyens, and the three were able to get a small gap. The three were able to stay away until the end, but when Cancellara opened up the sprint with the chasing group breathing down their neck, it was a little too far out for him to hold off Nuyens, who was able edge out Cancellara and Chavanel for the win.

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