It was a game of ‘cat-n-mouse’ as four riders entered the final kilometer and slowed to a crawl, each watching the other, waiting for the first rider to make the first move. At 300 meters to go they still eyed each other. Finally, Fabian Cancellara, sitting in fourth wheel, jumped, and immediately opened a gap. The others reacted, but none could match ‘Spartacus’ as he powered his way to the finish line: it was an impressive third win at Ronde van Vlaanderen. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Sep Vanmarcke (Team Belkin) rounded out the podium.
“I tried to ask Dirk [Demol] through the radio how many seconds we had because the last thing I wanted was the others coming back,” explained Cancellara soon after the race had finished. “That would have been the end of the world. For the spectators at home I am sure it was an exciting track final. It was man against man and I just kept pushing to the end. I did it for the team, and for my wife because I promised to bring the flowers home. I feel sorry for the Belgians. I was against three Belgians at the end….but now I am happy and it’s time to go rock the bus and have a nice evening.”
The 259 kilometer race came down to a riveting tactical battle as Fabian Cancellara had to play a cool hand with no teammates remaining, most victims of crashes that marred the race all day.
The first major crash for the team happened with 112 kilometers to go, which took down Stijn Devolder and Gregory Rast. A few kilometers later Yaroslav Popovych would hit the tarmac hard, resulting in a trip to the hospital.
“The only thing I knew is that I hit a lady in red with my handlebar. There is nothing broken, I am lucky,” said Yaroslav Popovych when reached at the hospital. “I may have a torn tendon in the hip. I could not walk at first and I was thinking the worst. I am very sad not to be able to finish the race, and especially to help at the end.”
It would not be the last crash for the team, as Stijn Devolder would go down for the second time just before the penultimate ascent of the Paterberg.
“A lot of bad luck,” said a disappointed Devodler. “My elbow is really bad, my back too, and it was too much to continue. I really wanted to do the last 40k of the race. I am really disappointed because I know I could be there with Fabian at the end.
“After the first crash Gregy [Rast] got me back on, he helped me a lot, and I came back to the first group pretty easy. Just before the second crash I went back to the car and said, ‘I feel really good today,’ and then in one second everything changed. After the second crash I had to change the bike, and the car was not there so I had to go for 5k before I could change it. It was just in a bad moment. In the end I am really happy that Fabian won, that makes this all feel better.”
With no more teammates around him Cancellara had to rely on his savviness and strength. On the Kwaremont, with only the Paterberg climb remaining, Cancellara launched a brutal attack that only Sep Vanmarcke could follow, leaving the other favorites scrambling behind. Over the top they would grab back the two leaders, first Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and moments later Greg Van Avermaet. This would be the final four-man selection.
“Since I was alone I knew I had to make the selection up the Kwaremont. On the Paterberg I could not go more, I was dead, and then I had to make a gamble to stay with Vandenbergh, Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet. I wanted to finish alone, but today it was better to wait for the sprint. Winning solo was the goal – I wanted to lift the bike over the line – but I was not afraid to sprint at the end, since then it is each man for himself; I still don’t know how I did it, I just did it.
“The race was quite intense, quite hard. We lost a lot of riders to crashes straightaway. To manage a race like this was amazing. Everyone did his little piece – Jesse [Sergent], Markel [Irazar], Hayden [Roulston], all the team – you need these little pieces to be at the top of the pyramid.
“It was so tough, I almost got dropped two times when they attacked. I don’t know, everything went well in the end. It’s just amazing. Last year I won in an amazing way here, but to repeat, this is even bigger – I have no words. There is no Monday, we said with the team before the race.”