Cancellara Wins E3 Harelbeke 2013
The man called Spartacus surged away from the lead group with 35 km left to win the rugged, 211-km cobbled classic in 5:08:28. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) outsprinted Daniel Oss (BMC) for second at 1:04.
The weather was warmer than it has been for many of this season's classics, and some riders took off leg warmers. A break was a long time forming. Not until 70 km did Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil-DCM), Koen Barbe (Crelan-Euphony), Eloy Teruel (Movistar), Anders Lund (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff), Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), and Stefan van Dyck (Accent Jobs-Wanty) escape. Twenty km later, the break led the bunch by three minutes.
The many hills created attrition, and before long only Teruel, Lund, and Barbe were in the lead. After the Stationsberg, the trio was reeled in.
Sky led the field up to the Taaienberg. On the climb, defending champion and five-time winner Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) surged and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) joined him. Cancellara, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Mathew Hayman (Sky) joined the pair, with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco), and Oss signing on later. Vanmarcke dropped out of the break, which left seven leaders. With 50 km remaining, Vincent Jerome (Europcar), Lars Boom (Blanco), Sebastien Langeveld (Orica-GreenEdge), and Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) bridged up to the move.
Behind, Sagan had missed the move because of a mechanical problem, but his Cannondale teammates towed him to the break. Additional combustion formed a lead group consisting of Cancellara, Boonen, Roelandts, Langeveld, Vandenbergh, Stybar, and a few others.
Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) bridged up to the leaders. On the Oude Kwaremont, however, Cancellara made his move. By the summit, the Swiss rider led his former companions by 0:15.
Boonen dropped back, and Stybar and Vandenbergh stayed with him. Boonen's teammate Sylvain Chavanel jumped into the chase group, which consisted of Langeveld, Sagan, Geraint Thomas (Sky), and Oss. At the summit of the Knokteberg, Cancellara led the lead chase group by a minute and a group consisting of Boonen, Boasson Hagen, and others by 1:40, with a number of riders between the two groups.
Cancellara held off the pursuit and had plenty of time to celebrate on the approach to the finish. Behind, Oss jumped away from his companions in the last km, but Sagan overtook the BMC man for the runnerup spot. (Located in the US? Watch E3 Harelbeke video highlights in our videos section)
Cancellara did not intend to break the race open with his attack, but circumstances played into his hands. "It was intuition to go on the Oude Kwaremont and just see if I could break down the group a little more," he said. "We knew the Oude Kwaremont was an important key in the race, as it will be in the Tour of Flanders, as we watched some days ago the finale of E3 of 2011 and 2012 on the computer. Also, this is part of the preparation for the race.
"You have to take it when you can as you never know what tomorrow brings. After my crash in Flanders last year, this was my first race on this special ground. I saw that there were many Omega Pharma-Quick Steps in the front, so I decided to try something. I went alone, and Dirk Demol kept telling me, 'Keep on going.' It was so hard but such a unique experience. Many things crossed my mind. This is a great win for me and for the team. Anything that will come now is a bonus. Also, I send best wishes to Eddy Merckx, who is in the hospital now."
Cancellara's victory put him at the top of the favorites list for the Tour of Flanders on March 31 and Paris-Roubaix on April 7, but the RadioShack-Leopard man is taking things one step at a time. "Will I be picked as the favorite now for Flanders and Roubaix?" he asked rhetorically. "That's life. The most important goals are indeed still coming, but let's celebrate first. We worked months for this. Now, I can tackle the other races in a more relaxed way. I feel renewed confidence with this win but also renewed pressure as well. In the end, it's a victory, and I know I've done my job."
Before the other two monuments, Cancellara and many other riders in today's race will take on Gent-Wevelgem 2013 on Sunday. How will they fare? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!