91st Ronde van Vlaanderen – Race report
One of the most exciting editions in recent years see's a grandstand finish!
The weather gave the race an almost Italian feel, with sunshine and china
blue skies greeting the riders at the start.
Despite the fine weather there were a few early tumbles in the peloton; but
after about 30 kilometres José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Laurent
Mangel (AG2R), Enrico Franzoi (Lampre) and Maarten Tjallingii (Skil) attacked
and sensing the danger as the gap moved to 30 seconds Aleksandr Kuschynski
(Liquigas), Evert Verbist (Chocolade Jacques) and David Boucher(Landbouwkrediet)
bridged to join the front men.
These seven men worked well together in the sunshine and by around 135
kilometres to go the gap reached a maximum of 13’ 30 minutes before starting to
As the peloton reached the Molenberg, it was Paolo Bettini and Steegmans
setting the pace with T Mobiles Burghardt also showing at the front.
With 104 kilometres to go the gap was still 8.18, with Quickstep, Rabobank
and Wiesenhof-Felt doing the work at the front of a peloton which was loosing
numbers, by gradual attrition one expects in a classic. Heinrich Haussler
continued Gerolsteiner’s run of bad luck crashing heavily, as did Alexandre
Pichot of Bouygues Telekom. While Niko Eeckhout had to retire due to sore ribs
from his accident a few days ago.
With 95 kilometres to go the gap was down to 7.30 as more teams (T Mobile and
Tinkoff Credit Systems) also helped lead the chase. Then CSC suffered a set back
as a tumble saw four CSC riders come down including Cancellara, and immediately
after that a big pile up caused chaos in the peloton. Van Avermaet, and Roesems
of Predictor-Lotto and another CSC (Breschel) all came down heavily.
Over the Knokteberg with 78 kilometres to go the gap was down to 4:50; yet
more crashes saw Erik Zabel, Fabian Wegmann and Manuel Quinziato amongst others
all hit the tarmac.
Over the Vieux-Quarémont it was T Mobile doing all the work for the
diminishing peloton meanwhile the 7 escapees were heading up the Paterberg 360
mètres pavés à 12,9 % with an advantage of around 4’30’’.
As the peloton hit the Paterberg Luca Paolini and Paolo Bettini were up with
the T Mobile team, but as the peloton reached the Kortekeer climb it was
Landbouwkredit leading the chase. But as the peloton regrouped it was disaster
for Bernucci ( T Mobile) who crashed on a level crossing.
Bettini and Boonen lead. Photo c. Fotoreporter Sirotti
The Taaienberg saw Bettini again lead the charge, with Boonen on his wheel
and this move split the peloton (and also dropped another Quickstep favourite
Van Petegem). Before the leading group of chasers of around 35 riders could
regroup Kevin Hulsmanns (Quickstep) and Van Summeren (Predictor) went on the
attack. Another crash saw Paolini crash on a sharp bend.
With 54 kilometres to go the peloton was down to about 65 riders, the seven
leaders with a 3’22’’ advantage and Hulsmanns and Summeren in no mans land
between these two sets of riders.
With 50 kilometres to go CSC made their move with Cancellara putting the
pressure on with team mate O’Grady on his wheel, Boonen and van Petegem covered
for Quickstep but on the next climb Leberg a select group got away and joined up
with the Hulsmanns and Summeren duo, Michael Boogerd, O’Grady, Benatti,
Steegmens and Hoste.
With Gilbert, Vansevenant, Bettini and Kroon bridging the gap with 42
kilometres to go alarm bells sounded for those with no men at the front.
Discovery Channel worked hard to bring it back together, but as the peloton
regrouped with 36 kilometres to go Cancellara attacked again for Team CSC.
Steegmans followed Cancellara and these two riders picked up the 7 escapees
who managed to hold Cancellara’s wheel, and these men got a working gap of 45
seconds on the peloton while Vansevenant and Devolder tried to bridge the gap.
So Laurent Mangel (AG2R), Enrico Franzoi (Lampre) Maarten Tjallingii (Skil) ,Aleksandr
Kuschynski (Liquigas), Evert Verbist (Chocolade Jacques) , David
Boucher(Landbouwkrediet) with Cancellara and Steegmans had a gap of 45 seconds
with 26 kilometres to go. Cancellara pressed the attack but had to command the
others to join in the effort.
With 25 kilometres to go these 8 men had 27 seconds advantage with Lampre and
Predictor lotto working hard to bring it back together. As they approached the
Muur the race came back together.
Ballan counters... Photo c. Fotoreporter Sirotti
On the Muur Tom Boonen made his first move in the race. Bennati closed the
gap and Ballan then countered in a great Lampre move. Over the top of the Muur,
Ballan powered on and only Hoste (Predictor Lotto) could catch him and these men
got a small gap over the peloton which was reduced to about 12 riders.
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) tried to bridge but was caught on the Bosberg, and
the two leaders had increased their lead to 18 seconds with 10 kilometres to go.
Ballan and Hoste worked well together, but the 17 chasing riders could not
get organized. Kroon (CSC) and Vaitkus, tried to bridge the gap and with 5
kilometres to go, the gap between these two duo’s of riders was 17 seconds.
Victory Ballan. Photo c. Fotoreporter Sirotti
The gap was just 11 seconds with 1 kilometres to go , and Ballan found
himself leading the two men under the Flamme Rouge. With the chasers closing
rapidly Ballan started the sprint but when Hoste took up the pace Ballan moved
up another gear to take a great victory ahead of Hoste, with Luca Paolini
finishing in third spot.