Ride the Puddles

Tour of Flanders 2011

Posted by bikezilla on April 3, 2011

I woke up just in time to catch the final 63km of the race, because, come on guys, 5:15 A.M. local is just too damned early for the start of coverage.

Yes, I’m whining, but I can’t imagine that anything that came earlier was nearly as interesting and exciting.

Things opened for me with Quickstep’s Sylain Chavanel (who I spent a large part of the morning calling “Chavaneel”. Oopsy), out in front alone. This is a very Chavanel kind of thing to do.

As is required any time I mention Sylvain, I have to say that he is a French guy who does not suck.

With that obligation now out of the way, let us continue.

That was how things remained until just before the 40km mark.

Then Quickstep’s Tom “Whiteline” Boonen jumped ahead, as if he intended to join up with his teammate, but he was quickly sucked back in to the main group.

What happened next? I’m not really sure.

Yes, I know that Fabian Cancellara jumped and bridged to Chavanel, but why? Chavanel was not even a minute ahead with a lot of race still to come. So there was no urgency to catch him.

Normally, you’d expect Fabian to take off on a long breakaway, but from between the 20km and 15km marks.

Was his 40km break part of the plan, because all the world expected him to go between 25 and 15km? Or did Boonen’s jump scare Fabian into going earlier than he’d intended? Either way, Fabian went out on his own far sooner than would have been ideal for him.

Then when he joins up with Chavanel, Chavanel uncharacteristically became a wheel-sucking bitch, refusing to help in any way.

Chavanel explained this in two ways: 1. His teammate Tom “Whiteline” Boonen was just behind, and 2. His DS, via race radio, told him not to help.

What? His DS used the race radio to control him like a robot?

Shhhh, best we don’t speak too loudly on the matter, lest UCI should catch wind.

But it would get worse, later.

Later is when Jonathan Vaughters, one of the managers who happened to have a live video feed in his car, told his riders on air not to help in the chase. This after Tyler Farrar asked him, over the radio, if he should participate in the chase.

Vaughters preferred to fight in a bunch sprint for a lesser place than to expend energy chasing.

You may ding Vaughters for this, but except for BMC not a single one of the teams made any coordinated effort to bridge the gap. There seemed no interest whatsoever in assembling the sprint trains, closing the short gap and fighting for first place. Not even in the closing kilometers.

It was a lot of individual jockeying, with little concerted team effort across the board.

But Vaughters’ action (or inaction) made two points.

1. It made his point that allowing radios and including live audio / video feeds for the fans would increase excitement and involvement.

I mean, shoot, bloggers, tweeters and news weenies will be analyzing it for days, maybe weeks.

2. It made UCI’s point that riders are controlled like robots by the DS and not allowed to think for themselves.

In the middle of it all, Vaughters starts to talk with his Twitter followers about his decision.

Ummmmmm, isn’t there a law against Tweeting and driving in Belgium?

And how the hell do race radios make the race safer if drivers ::coughvaughterscough:: are reading and typing on their phones throughout the race?!

Bad Vaughters! Bad!

Inevitably, Cancellara and Chavanel were caught at about the 14km mark.

I’d been hoping (ok, praying) for a long breakaway showdown of Team Leopard Drek’s Cancellara and Omega-PharmaLotto’s Philippe Gilbert.

But it was not to be. While Gilbert led the charge that eventually caught Cancellara and then made a jump of his own, he was clearly spent and a non-factor at the end.

Cancellara used the opportunity to rest, then jumped again with 3 – 4km to go, Chavanel again sucking his . . . wheel.

Ok, ok, Chavanel helped A LITTLE this time, but it wasn’t nearly as funny to say that.

Then, Cancellara started his sprint too early because he’d glanced back and saw Boonen charging toward them.

In the end it came down to a sprint between Team Leopard Drek’s Cancellara, Quickstep’s Chavanel and Saxo Bank’s Nick Nuyens.

If you’re saying, “Where the hell did HE come from? He hasn’t even been mentioned yet!”, I can only reply, “Zactly!”.

We hardly saw or heard from Nuyens for 259km, then, WHAM, it’s the final sprint and he’s on Cancellara’s wheel approaching the line, coming around him, crowding Chavanel toward the wall and WINNING!

Is it not a thing of beauty that Saxo Bank comes away with both 1st and 4th place, and that mighty Team Leopard Drek walks away with 3rd?

Yes, yes it is a thing of beauty.

Speaking of things of beauty:

Chiara Passerini let her hubby, BMC’s Cadel Evans, take over “non-professional commentary duties”.

1. Cadel didn’t keep up.

2. Cadel is not nearly as entertaining as his wife.

3. Cadel should give up on his dream of moving into the booth when his career as a cyclist is over.

To sum up, Cadel sucked.

However, via Twitter we have learned that Cadel, just as when he races, is no quitter.

He has slapped Chiara in the face with his gauntlet and challenged her to a Twitter commentary battle for Paris-Robaix.

May the best Evans win.

Though I have to tell you, Cadel, Chiara is gonna crush you like a little girlie man.

In the post race when someone jostles you, she’ll say, “Do not step on my Cadel. You step on my Cadel, I cut you head off.”

And then she’ll laugh hysterically and body-slam you.

But back to the race:

Chavanel’s DS, controlling him like a robot via race radio, told Chavanel not to help Fabian because Fabian was too strong.

Then Chavanel beats Cancellara in the final sprint.

But, if Chavanel had spent that 25km of racing helping Fabian, then Fabian would have been stronger and Chavanel weaker for that final sprint.

Chavanel has said, or at least implied, that his inclination was to help Cancellara. So clearly in this case, tactics as dictated by the DS via race radio, made a significant difference in the race’s outcome.

However, since Bjarne Riis (Team Leopard Drek’s head dude) is in favor of using race radios, he has to sit back and shut his yap about this.

How did Vaughters’ Garmin – Cervelo do?

Sprinter Tyler Farrar took 13th, over a minute behind the leader.


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