Fabian Cancellara, the defending champion of the Tour of Flanders, accelerated past his three breakaway companions on the finishing stretch in Oudenaarde on Sunday to win the 98th edition of the race. Out-sprinting Sep Vanmarcke, Stijn Vandenburgh, and Greg Van Avermaet, Cancellara repeated as Flanders champion a year after completing his second Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double. The victory marked the third time he had stood atop the podium in the classic, equaling the record set by five other riders in the race’s history.
Amid rainfall, 200 riders took to the start line in Brugge representing 25 of the world’s top cycling squads. The 259-kilometer circuit awaited the dozens of riders as they awaited the commencement of the festivities. Precipitation hindered the formation of an early breakaway, with 11 riders finally getting free off the front 35 kilometers into the race as they passed through the town of Heule.
Among the group, which would gain a four-minute lead before being reeled in slowly by the favorites, was rising American challenger Taylor Phinney. The group would build a gap that at one point reached as large as five minutes, but the cobblestone climbs of the Tour of Flanders ultimately doomed the breakaway to failure.
Crashes also took their toll on the peloton. Among the contenders who were felled in accidents included former two-time Tour of Flanders champion Stijn Devolder and former Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren. Vanmarcke was also among those who crashed, though he would manage to remount the bike and reach the front at the finish to contest the decisive sprint.
The attrition looked to have opened the door for Tom Boonen, who crashed in Flanders last year and subsequently missed Roubaix with a fractured rib, to break the deadlock in the record books and capture his fourth title in Flanders. OmegaPharma-Quick Step, Boonen’s team, put seven riders on the front of the peloton to shave down the gap to the breakaway and try to force an elite selection.
The contenders were consolidated at the front of the field with less than 35 kilometers remaining in the six-hour race. Almost immediately after the contenders had regrouped, Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky and Giant-Shimano’s Dries Devenyns attacked and formed a new breakaway.
On the counterattack, Van Avermaet and Vandenburgh shot out of the group of favorites to chase Boasson Hagen and Devenyns. On the third and final pass over the Oude Kwaremont with less than 20 kilometers left to race, Cancellara upped the pace. Only Vanmarcke would be able to stick on the defending champion’s wheel, as Boonen and the rest of the favorites fell off the pace. Boasson Hagen and Devenyns would ultimately fade away, as the two-time winner and Vanmarcke — the runner-up behind Cancellara at last year’s Paris-Roubaix — reeled in the two leaders.
Vandenburgh was caught by the pair on the Paterburg 13 kilometers from the finish. Two kilometers later, Van Avermaet was swept up and the lead quartet strung out their lead to over a half-minute on the chase group. Vandenburgh, who had been sitting on the other three riders’ wheels, darted on a long sprint with three kilometers to go, trying to catch his counterparts napping. The ruse failed, as the four riders regrouped for the final sprint.
In the final kilometer, Cancellara’s top-end speed proved too much for the other three after 258 kilometers had already passed through their legs. The Swiss veteran played it perfectly, churning the cranks to maximum effect as he left Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, and Vandenburgh to fight for second place. In the process, he positioned himself aside Boonen and the other four legends of cycling’s past tied with three victories on and over the Flemish hills and cobbles — and, coupled with his second-place finish at Milano-San Remo in March, made himself even more of a marked man next Sunday on the road to Roubaix as he looks to become the first rider to successfully win both races in two consecutive seasons.
TOP FIVE FINISHERS
- Fabian Cancellara (SUI/Trek Factory Riding) — 6:15:18
- Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC Racing) — +0:00
- Sep Vanmarcke (BEL/Belkin Pro Racing) — +0:00
- Stijn Vandenburgh (BEL/Omega Pharma-Quick Step) — +0:00
- Alexander Kristoff (NOR/Katusha) — +0:08