The Jury Is Still Out On Tour of Flanders Changes
It's 24 hours later and people still aren't sure if they like or dislike Flanders.
The day after a major race there's always the post-event analysis and the armchair team directors have a lot to say about the Tour of Flanders. As you know the route had undergone a change: gone were the climbs of the Bosberg and the Muur - both iconic hills that were tied to the history of the race. Their exclusion angered some people so much that a group threatened to throw tacks down on the course in protest.
Instead riders did large finishing loops, which featured the climb of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. The Kwaremont is 1.5 kilometers long with cobbles thrown in for good measure. Oh, did I mention it's climbed three times? Like Kwaremont, the Paterberg is climbed three times, but is much shorter at 350 meters but with an average gradient of 12%.
In the end we still had three worthy riders fighting it out: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing Team). We all know what happened next - Boonen's dream season continued with a third win in this Belgian classic.
"Today Pippo was the strongest," is what team director Luca Scinto told Cyclingnews after the race. Looks like the Italian director is taking a cue out of Johan Bruyneel's playbook of stating his rider was the strongest and still managed to lose. I must have missed that chapter in his book "We Might As Well Win."
Speaking of Bruyneel, his RadioShack-Nissan team suffered the misfortune of star classic rider Fabian Cancellara crashing in the feed zone, breaking his collarbone in four places. The Swiss rider was a five-star favorite for Flanders and was sure to be a protagonist in Paris-Roubaix. But that's all gone now.
In addition to the teams weighing in post-race, journalists let their feelings be known before the riders rolled out of the start town of Brugge.
Velo Magazine's Neal Rogers didn't mince words and called the new route "blasphemous" stating that the removal of the two iconic "bergs" would take away from the drama.
Rider's thoughts were mixed from Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) calling the change "stupid" to Boonen saying he had no preference.
Now that the race is completed views are still split. I asked on Twitter what people thought of the race and I got answers from "meh," a comparison to a transitional stage in the Tour de France, to it was still a good race.
Sporza conducted their own poll and discovered that 48% of the people surveyed felt the new Flanders course wasn't an improvement, 23% thought it was better and 28% said it there was no difference.
The always insightful Gerard Vroomen didn't feel the love for the new parcours. For him the absence of the Muur and the new finishing town of Oudenaarde took away from the race's luster.
After watching the race and mulling over past drama filled editions so far this new course didn't thrill me. That said, there was a worthy winner in Tom Boonen.
Like Vroomen, I missed the Muur and I always loved the photographs of the church steeple at the top of the Muur de Geraardsbergen. However, all things eventually change, worn away by the sands of time. There are even rumblings that the Cipressa and the Poggio climb of Milan-San Remo might be changed. And let's remember that Paris-Roubaix's course has changed over the years too.
But Neil, you say, the changes to Paris-Roubaix still kept the atmosphere of the race alive. True - but times are different now. In this case of Flanders it was the need to infuse some money into the race's coffers and this meant laps by VIP tents erected by paying customers. As someone who has snuck their way into many a VIP tent - there's money made in there. Catering, television services, wait staff - all this adds up to dollars and jobs.
As I have written in the past, I understand the need for the change. Yes, cycling is known as "the people's sport" but these are tough times and there needs to be a balance between marketing the event for funds and still keeping the race accessible to the fans. Having the course race by a paying VIP area could take the financial strain off an event. But I have to state once again, the VIP areas shouldn't push out the fans - there still needs to be suitable and affordable viewing for everyone.
Like I said in the beginning of the column the changes didn't award the race to an unworthy winner. On the Kwaremont, Ballan surged clear and Pozzato with Boonen bridged across.
Over the Paterberg their gap on the chasers grew and in the final kilometers it was a little over a minute.
Ballan, the worst sprinter out of the three, tried several attacks - each covered by Boonen. This left the BMC rider leading the trio into the final kilometer. From there it was a formality as Boonen came out from Ballan and wasn't really challenged by Pozzato.
While Omega Pharma-QuickStep was having a banner day in Belgium, their American general classification rider, Levi Leipheimer, was out on the Spanish roads getting in an easy ride before Monday's Vuelta al País Vasco when he was hit from behind by a car.
Thankfully it appears he's escaped any major injuries, but he's no longer lining up for Vuelta al País Vasco. Instead he's flying back to California. Hopefully this won't affect his preparation for the upcoming Amgen Tour of California. I've been waiting for months to see RadioShack's Chris Horner and Leipheimer battle it out in California.
STOP THE PRESSES!
Just as I was getting ready to wind this column entry up, the UCI announced that Saxo Bank is indeed going to keep their WorldTour license. Their recently suspended rider Alberto Contador accumulated 68% of the team's total points, which his name has now been power-scrubbed from. If Contador's points were to be eliminated they'd be forced to scramble for wild card invites - oh the horror!
This was a tricky situation for the UCI license commission. Sure Pistolero scored all those points, but he had the support of his team and they deserve some of the credit, right?
Team owner Bjarne Riis can sleep easy as things are still good to go for the Crotch Eagle team. While there is no way that the team will win the Tour de France, Contador returns from his ban to contest the Vuelta a Espana later this season.
Until next week, remember to sign up for your own Roadcycling.com training and nutrition diary - powered by TrainingPeaks - and to check out our latest race videos from the Tour of the Basque Country.