What a carry on – VCSE reflects on the Ronde

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Yesterday confirmed that whatever hex Fabian Cancellara was under in 2012 has left him and is making Tom Boonen’s year one to forget. Last year, Cancellara fell while going through a feed zone (Geraint Thomas suffered a similar crash yesterday) while Boonen won the first running of the Ronde on it’s new parcours.

Cancellara had demonstrated his form at Milan San Remo and had proved imperious at E3 Harelbeke, riding away from the field with kilometres to spare. Much of the speculation ahead of this years classics was whether the tactic of attempting to ride rivals off his wheel would work with Peter Sagan in particular and riders like of Sylvain Chavanel looking in good touch. The relative strengths of Cancellara’s team Radioshack verses OPQS, Cannondale and even Sky in the classics was also questioned, with Cancellara often having no teammates to work with as races reached their closing stages.

His performance at E3 probably made him joint favourite with Sagan ahead of the Ronde. Boonen, who was bidding to win for a record third time has shown flashes of form this year but nothing resembling his results in 2012.

Eurosport were putting the editorial direction if not their money on a Boonen Cancellara face off. When the snooker from Bejing had finished overrunning the plan was to show extended interviews with both riders before cutting to the live feed. Like many great plans it unravelled in the face of a tweet from Boonen’s girlfriend announcing that he was already out of the race with less than 20 k’s completed. There was ample footage of the aftermath but with no other riders apparently involved, during the race at least it was unclear how it had occured.

As hasty re-edits were implemented we at least enjoyed Cancellara rhapsodising about the race. While he appeared quietly confident, you could sense Boonen’s realism about his chances even in a shortened interview.

Using this parcours for the second time the peloton would climb the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg three times and as the leaders approached for the final time the critical moves were poised to take place. The intervening kilometres had been characterised by a surprisingly strong showing from Radioshack with Hayden Roulston doing some monster turns at the head of the peloton. There was a breakaway for much of the race but this was never more that a few minutes away.

Up the final climb of the Paterberg it was now head to head between Cancellara and Sagan as their rivals in leading group ran out of legs. As the outside bets prepared to argue over the scraps Cancellara and Sagan began their final ascent of the Kwaremont. Those hoping for a Sagan win hoped that the signs that fatigue was setting in over the crest of the Paterberg was illusory. As both riders hit the final third of the climb those hopes were dashed as Sagan faltered as Cancellara picked up the pace.

What had been 30 seconds at the summit was over a minute at the end as Cancellara the time trialler delivered an emphatic victory, slowing to a comparative crawl as he crossed the line. Sagan had a job on his hands to retain his podium position, working hard with eventual third place finisher Jurgen Roelandts of Lotto.

Lotto could feel pleased with their race. A rider in the break all day, joined by Andre Greipel and as those two faded late on the faintest chance of a solo win for Roelandts. Sky’s fabled classics squad failed to fire again and it’s hard to see things improving at Paris Roubaix on Sunday.

The post race analysis was dominated not by Cancellara’s victory but Sagan’s unfortunate arse grab of one of the podium girls. Cue a lot of hand wringing about sexism in the sport. There’s clearly lots to discuss at the inequalities between men’s and women’s professional cycling but Sagan’s actions don’t merit becoming the metaphor for this.

As for Boonen, he would be forgiven for writing off his season now. Reports suggest that he didn’t sustain any broken bones but with it looking unlikely that he will be able to put in many miles ahead of the weekend it’s hard to see him beating his ‘other’ record at Paris Roubaix on Sunday.

The super supporters – VCSE’s thoughts on Paris Nice and Tirreno Adriatico

Chris Froome
Settling for 2nd – Froomey (Photo credit: Petit Brun)

Tirreno Adriatico finished with Tuesday’s Time Trail. For Team Sky and Chris Froome there was perhaps disappointment that he was unable to emulate Richie Porte in Paris Nice and win the general classification. 

With talk of a breakaway world series ahead of the start of last weeks races it could be seen that some of the world tour teams were sending coded messages to the UCI by running their A squads in the Tirreno. Sky were led by Froome with most of his helpers from last years Vuelta supplemented by new signings Dario Cataldo and Joe Dombrowski. Froome faced a stellar cast of GC contenders in Alberto Contador (Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)and Cadel Evans (BMC).

There was plenty of room within the field for other stories to be played out a week ahead of Milan San Remo with the sprinting hierarchy represented by Mark Cavendish (OPQS), Andre Greipel (Lotto) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

There were metaphorical raised eyebrows in France that the world tour teams appeared to be placing Tirreno ahead of Paris Nice  with their selections but at the end of both races the teams looked justified as Tirreno led the way for incident and excitement.

Porte had seemed uncomfortable with the leaders mantle to begin with, sometimes looking like he needed to be reminded that he could call the shots. Certainly he had a strong pairing to work for him at the front with the ex Movistar riders David Lopez and Vasil Kiryenka impressing on the climbs also. Sky’s other new signings at Paris Nice Jonathan Tiernan-Locke and Ian Boswell had a tougher time. Brian Smith, JTL’s ex manager suggests that he would be better suited for the classics. but Sky have him earmarked as a GC rider. Other than flashes when the race entered the climbs he cast a rather forlorn figure before abandoning due to illness on stage 5. Boswell was conspicuously out the back on most days and will no doubt be expected to improve.

Porte’s moment of clarity about being team leader probably came at the end of stage came at the end of stage 4 when Andrew Talansky (Garmin) took the yellow jersey and stage win. Porte and Sky were super strong the following day with a summit finish that allowed Porte to demonstrate his superiority on the climbs.

The possibility of Talansky wresting back the yellow on the final day’s TT was demolished when Porte’s time split came on screen. It’s not surprising that speculation about Porte as a potential GC winner at the Giro next year has begun. VCSE wonders if Dave Brailsford can imagine a world where his two GC contenders are Froome and Porte rather than Froome and Wiggins.

As Paris Nice was reaching its climax Tirreno Adriatico was just beginning to warm up. Omega Pharma had Cavendish in the leaders jersey until Saturday after the opening team TT and his consistent sprint placings on stages 2 and 3. Beaten in both, Cav, his lead out, or a combination of the two didn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders. Peter Sagan’s strong start to the season continued with stage wins book ending the summit finish action at the weekend.

Froome had appeared beaten on the climb to Prati di Tivo on Saturday but produced a stunning victory that left his rivals shell-shocked riding up to their wheels, then around, before soloing up to the line.

Sunday’s stage to Chieti with its final kilometres formed of narrow streets and double digit ramps were Froome and indeed Sky’s undoing. As with the Vuelta last year he looks vulnerable to attack on short, steep climbs. As the finish approached Froome burnt all of his supporting ‘matches’ and was spent going too early for the final intermediate sprint. losing out to Contador. Purito Rodriguez rode away from everyone on the final climb which left VCSE wondering about Katusha and ‘ethical reasons’.

Chieti’s climbs were familiar ground. On Monday the penultimate stage visited the 300 odd metres of the Muro di Sant’Elpidio and its 27% ramps not once but twice. The height of the climb was the deceiver in what appeared to be a fairly innocuous stage. The sight of the worlds best riders resorting to walking in some cases and more than fifty abandonments is an indication of just how tough the climb was. RCS, the Tirreno organisers, admitted the following day that yes perhaps it had been too much. Spare a thought for BMC’s Taylor Phinney who at least completed the stage, but at 35 minutes down missed the time exemption.

A second day of this type of climb did for Froome as leader as he again lost his support and even lost out to the likes of Sagan on the Muro. Sagan re bonded with last years team mate Nibali to share the spoils of stage win and leaders jersey ahead of the final days TT.

The Tirreno also saw a renaissance of sorts for Damiano Cunego who starred in a solo breakaway on Sunday and was part of the group break on Monday. His efforts rewarded by the King of the Mountains jersey.

Froome’s challenge at the Tour will be to use his domestiques wisely. While the Tour is unlikely to feature the type of ramps seen in Italy or Spain a double ascent of Alpe d’Huez will not take prisoners. Sky look to have all of the cards with their domestiques this year. Kiryenka and Lopez in Paris Nice and Cataldo in the Tirreno all impressed, looking like the can ride at the front all day and with Porte returning to normal duties in the grand tours Sky’s first six names on the team sheet have probably already been written.