Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Oops ...

The odds are against a rider who hopes to win any race two years in a row. Guys like Eddy Merckx, Sean Kelly, Lance Armstrong, Miguel Indurain, and even more specifically Fiorenzo Magni, Achiel Buysse and Tom Boonen, are not just in the minority, but statistically improbable. Prior to Boonen's 2006 repeat at Flanders the last repeat win at Flanders occurred in 1973.

Such knowledge is unlikely to soothe the frustration Filippo Pozzato, Philippe Gilbert, Martijn Maaskant or Heinrich Haussler feel at Stijn Devolder's escape at the Muur de Gramont. After all, you're supposed to bet against the dark horse ... but just how dark a horse is a Belgian strongman whose greatest annual rendezvous is with the muur? Odds aside, letting last year's winner go at any race is unwise, to say the least.

Somehow Devolder was able to recover and attack and leave the other strongmen—favorites all—gasping on the Gramont's steepest pitch. Neat trick. The unlikelihood of Devolder's win evaporated as soon as his gap reached 10 seconds.

So what's this spell for the future? Devolder will find it more difficult to punch his card in a solo break. And Boonen now has undeniable competition within his team for leadership at Flanders as long as he and Devolder remain on the same team. Thanks to Devolder for making the a bold, memorable and ultimately fruitful move, but what's Boonen to do?

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.


Rich said...

What Boonen needs to do is simple, but at the same time hard. One thing he needs to do is re-develop the hunger of 2002. In that year he had his greatest Roubaix ride, only finishing third, but offering a Flandarian roar as the Lon of Flanders took his third win.

Museeuw never lost that fire, and meeting him recently you can still see it burning in his eyes. So how can Tom get it back, the answer is I don't know. It could be a change of teams, or to seek counsel from riders who have been in his position. I hope for him, and myself that it returns as the memories of a Sunday in April still burn brightly within me.

Let's not for a minute devalue Devolder's win, it was pure class. I was down the road a little when he had crested the Bosberg, I'd swear he was on a motorbike he was going so fast. A great edition that resulted in many beers being drunk in Flanders that day.

Rich -

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Best race I've watched in years. Who cares what Boonen does from here. After Sunday, I'm a Devolder fan.

Justin said...

Boonen may simply be the old on Quickstep. With this much competition, with this much class, in the team he may need to seek out another venue where he is prized as the #1 sprinter.

Da Robot said...

I don't know. If I was Devolder, I'd have said, "Um...why is everyone talking about Tom, when I spanked this bitch last year?"

Quick Step will be alright if they can get on whatever page Columbia is on, which is the "Hey, who wants to win today?" page.

Touriste-Routier said...

If Boonen wants to be on top again, he needs to stop worrying about Pozzato, and needs to convince his directors that he'll prevail. It isn't a question of his form.

But if you want to win, you need to risk losing. Sure Pozzato has incredible form now, but it was the fear of towing him to the line that opened the door for Devolder's attack and great (and well deserved) victory.

Quick Step is very fortunate that they have several cards to play in these races. Since Pozzato was marking Boonen it was logical for Quick Step to let Chavanel and Devolder loose. Devolder struck the winning blow.

I think Boonen is still going to be number one at Quick Step. If he moves to another team, he'll be number one, but without sufficient support to do what he does best.

Anonymous said...

Tactics play a key role. We have to remember that Quick Step teammate Slyvan Chavanel was up the road and the strongest man in the break. Also, Boonen was marked like white-on-rice by Pipo Pizzato. Not that this decides everything, but it did help Stijn get away unmarked to bridge. And when Stijn jumped again, neither Chavanel nor Boonen could very well chase.

After the race, Hausler (distant 2d) opined that Devolder was the best on the day. But, insterestingly, Pizzato thought Boonen was stronger! Also, one wonders what margin of victory Chavanel might have put up had he the green-light to ride for himself rather than mark the break while Devolder, Booen, and Van Impe covered the chases?

Shall we say, Quickstep appeared to have the three strongest men?

Rich said...

Quick Step were probably the strongest team on the day, I doubt if the Teams had worked together they would have been able to pull back Devolder.

Chavanel could have been the strongest of all three, but we are unlikely to ever know. QS would never let a Frenchman win Flanders when they have two Flemish guys in the mix. Maybe Chavanel will get his chance this weekend as going into Paris Roubaix QS are playing with three aces in their hand.

Haussler has got to win a big one at somepoint this season. Watching how relaxed his was before the start was refreshing. Maybe L-B-L has his name on it, or Amstel, all I know is he's great to watch.

Maybe Boonen needs to focus on the Green jersey, or he could surprise us all and go for an Ardennes Classic.

Well only two days to Roubaix and the end of my favourite week in bike racing.


jza said...

Boonen is fine. Quickstep has simply used the same tactic twice in a row and netted the same result. They're the USPS of the classics, shit is dialed in.

QS had 4 riders in the final group of about 30. 3 of them were probably among the 10 strongest guys in the race: Boonen, Chavanel and Devolder. Van Impe is no slouch either.

So, Lefevre starts to roll out the big guns. Chavanel's off the front with one with Quinziato. Devolder bridges up then drops them.

Now the remaining group of 30 is a pretty mixed bag, few teammates. Most of the guys probably don't have much chase in them, those that do aren't going to want to tow in a raging QS team and a fit Pozzato.

From there, it's Devolder's to lose. If he blows, QS launches the next attack, but he doesn't so they win.

QS always has rock solid tactics and Lefervre isn't afraid to make the big dogs lie in wait, see Pozzato's MSR win, with Boonen just ready to explode in the sprint.

Boonen's a classy rider, he understands the tactics and knows he'll get his.

jza said...

To further beat a very close to dead horse........

Devolder's attack had two likely results:
1. He wins.
2. He sets up Boonen for a huge counter attack.

Result 2 is problematic because nobody knows how strong Pozzato is.

I'm sure everyone wearing blue and white was perfectly happy with result #1.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Big Red & JZA.

Indeed, the one spot where Quick Step faltered this spring was letting Boonen carry Pipo to the line in the E3.

So, if you are looking for a price on Sunday, Chavanel (20-1) on the theory that QS hold all the cards and the tactics might swing Tom or Devolder's way. Also it doesn't hurt that Sylvain is French and has worked hard to give Stijn, and Van Impe their wins, and Tom is chance, in the Flanders.

Another stab at an OK price would be to take Flecha on the theory that he can simply ride away solo over the final pave sectors and that no amount of team work matter (or even be possible) at that point.

Finally, I honestly do not see Team Columbia having the guns to repeat Ghent-Wevelgem, and Hincapie and Cannonball Cavendish are going to be over bet and under priced anyhow.

Da Robot said...

I understand what QS did, and I see that they were the strongest, and I'm glad Devolder got what he deserved for a great break...

BUT...what were Katusha and Pozzato thinking.

OK, you mark Boonen and let Chavanel go because you figure Chavanel is really just trying to break up the race as a set up for Boonen, but then when Devolder went, does it still make sense to mark Boonen? You've got Chavanel out and the defending champ up the road, too.

At that point, even if you think Boonen is still their man, don't you have to mark the Devolder break?

Either their tactics were way too rigid or Pozzato wasn't really that strong on the day. Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...


You're not missing anything. Pozzato has acknowledged in a post race interview that he was not feeling good, so he decided to mark Boonen at all costs and maybe steal it at the end.

Had Pozzato been "on," he might well have followed DeVolder like he did Boonen in the E3 and left QS looking like idiots for holding back Chavanel for nationalist reasons.

The acclamations of tactical genius for QS are overrated. The Boonen bias got them beat at E3 and endangered the win in the Ronde.