Devolder Wins Tour of Flanders
Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) has won the Tour of Flanders. The Belgian champion surged away from four companions to win the rugged, 264-km classic in 6:24:02. Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) outsprinted Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) for second at 0:15.
The race began in cold, rainy conditions. From the start, the pace was fast. The field covered 49.5 km during the first hour of racing and 47.4 during the second. At 111 km, Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi), Tom Veelers (Skil Shimano), Sven Renders (Topsport Vlaanderen), and Vincent Jerome (Bouygues Telecom) sallied off of the front. The break's lead maxed out at 2:15.
On the Molenberg (157 km), the bunch was only 0:37 ahead of the break. Because of narrow roads, however, the chase slowed, and the escapees extended their lead to about a minute and a quarter. Between the Molenberg and the Wolvenberg (167 km), Jerome and Tombak gave their companions the slip, but the break reformed.
During the run to the Oude Kwaremont (185 km), the bunch absorbed the break. On the climb, Andreas Klier (High Road), Tomas Vaitkus (Astana), and Flecha attempted to escape, but the peloton reeled them in. As the race approached the next ascent, the Koppenberg (195 km), the action began.
A lead group of about 20 riders formed. Among the leaders were Leif Hoste (Lotto), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), two-time winner Tom Boonen (Quick Step), and Devolder. On the Koppenberg, Boonen made a move and about 10 other riders joined him. On the descent, the lead group consisted of Boonen, Devolder, Hoste, Ballan, Fabian Cancellara (CSC), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), and Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank).
Hoste was dropped when he had a mechanical. Just before the Taaienberg (203 km), Langeveld and Hushovd attacked, but a regroupment occurred on the descent. With 53 km left, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) attacked. With 50 km remaining, he led the chase group by 0:23.
Quick Step began to chase. The pursuit caught Freire at the base of the Leberg (216 km). Devolder attacked and took Langeveld and Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) with him. Eventually, George Hincapie (High Road), Karsten Kroon (CSC), Ballan, Cancellara, and Boonen joined the trio.
Five riders led the field when the race reached the Valkenburg (227 km). They were Ballan, Devolder, Langeveld, Hincapie, and Kroon. With 30 km remaining, they led the peloton by 0:20. Liquigas and Cofidis led the peloton's pursuit, and the bunch caught the break at the base of the Eikenmolen (239 km).
Devolder attacked. Hushovd, Tombak, Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) pursued but could not catch the Belgian. With 18 km left, Devolder led the chase group by 0:18 and the bunch by 0:35. The chase group and the peloton regrouped on the Muur-Kapelmuur (249 km), but Devolder stayed away. On the descent, a chase group consisting of Ballan, Flecha, Boonen, Langeveld, Gregory Rast (Astana), Nuyens, and Niki Terpstra (Milram) formed.
Langeveld attacked his companions. With 10 km left, Devolder led the Dutchman by 0:15 and the chasers by 0:30. Nuyens and Flecha attacked from the chase group and overhauled Langeveld with five km left, but the horse had left the barn.
At the postrace press conference, Devolder stated that winning the Tour of Flanders was a dream come true. The Belgian champion spent four years with U.S. Postal Service, which morphed into Discovery Channel in 2005. During that time, Devolder acquired a reputation as a stage racer and a time trialist. Nothing in his background, except possibly his Belgian championship, pointed to a classic win.
Many of the riders in the Tour of Flanders will cross swords in Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesday. Who will prosper? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!