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Disappointment in Flanders! The American Wrap-up.
 
By Jaime Nichols
Date: 4/9/2002
Disappointment in Flanders! The American Wrap-up.
 

The Tour of Flanders saw some strong riding from the American contenders, not the least of which came from 4th place finisher, George Hincapie.

Hincapie rode a super strong race, showing consistency and strength from start to finish, surviving an untimely broken chain that forced a bike change, and looking comfortable on the climbs. Well-positioned, and receiving able assistance from his team, he was a protagonist in the establishment of the winning break and went into the final kilometers with an elite lead group consisting of Daniele Nardello and Andrea Tafi from Mapei, Peter Van Petegem from Lotto and the dearly beloved Johan Museeuw of Domo. Reports are that local television coverage was awarding the race to George almost as soon as the final group of five was established, and he would indeed have been the odds on favorite had the day come down to a clean sprint. Perhaps it was, in part, Hincapie’s strength that kept Museeuw and Van Petegem from a willingness to cooperate with him in the final kilometers.

With Mapei having the clear advantage in numbers, Tafi launched attack after attack, presumably in an effort to soften up the others for teammate Nardello. When Tafi got away on his final flier, Van Petegem had just reeled in his previous launch, and the group hesitated. Museeuw gave chase with some assistance from Hincapie while Van Petegem refused to work, and Nardello sat on for his teammate. Finally, Museeuw, perhaps knowing that once he, Van Petegem and Hincapie bridged up to Tafi, Nardello would be fresh as a daisy and ready to polish them off, stopped working as well, settling for contention of a 2nd place sprint. All cooperation was lost, and with it, George’s chances for victory in Belgium’s finest.

All this begs another question, and that’s when, oh when, will US Postal have a man in the break with George on these occasions? What were Lance Armstrong and the rest of the USPS troops up to while their erstwhile team leader was facing hostile natives alone? Under a minute down on the lead group for most of the final kilometers of the race, Armstrong was policing the chasers, sitting on in an effort to protect Hincapie’s lead, and with his strongest teammate up the road, what else could he do? Still, if George had been so lucky as to have a strong teammate with him in the break, he would likely have had good enough legs to have forced the race at the end, rather than falling victim to being outnumbered by uncooperative opponents in the eleventh hour. Again.

It’s the luxury of an elite few to be disappointed by a 4th place finish in the Tour of Flanders, and Hincapie once again showed himself to be one of the strongest riders in the peloton and a real power to be reckoned with in these tough, one-day races. US Postal looked strong and impressive by all accounts, and will no doubt be talking strategy this week as the team gears up to support Hincapie in the defense of his Gent-Wevelgem title tomorrow and the holy grail: Paris-Roubaix this weekend.

Tomorrow is another race!

Our other worthy US contender spent some quality time with excellent position in the peloton on Sunday. Fred Rodriguez rode a strong race sticking in with Armstrong’s chase group at under a minute down on the leaders until the end. Rodriguez’s lights dimmed when he followed a move by Frank Hoj of Team Coast, setting off to join the break containing teammates Museeuw and Cassani. Having nearly made the gap, Hoj and Rodriguez were delayed by motorbikes, and Fast Freddy’s race never caught up with the leaders. He finished a respectable 17th on the day. Still, he’s sitting pretty at third place in the World Cup race, and joins George Hincapie to fight another day at Paris-Roubaix this Sunday.

Bring it on!

US Results:

4. George Hincapie, USPS at .021

17. Fred Rodriguez, Domo at 2.37

59. Lance Armstrong, USPS at 2.59

84. Guido Trenti, Aqua e Sapone at 12.25

87. Christian Vandevelde, USPS at 12.25

 
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