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Entertainment on show in the race and in the team cars

Richard Moore Posted 4th April 2011 view comments

Sunday's Tour of Flanders served as a timely reminder, amid myriad controversies around doping, race radios and breakaway leagues, of just how fantastic bike racing can be.

It had everything, but in brief summary: there was an outrageously early statement of intent from the defending champion, Fabian Cancellara, that suggested, from 60km out, that the race was all but over, until his surprising - and surprisingly brief - collapse on the penultimate climb, the brutal, cobbled, crowded Kapelmuur.

Nuyens: 'the invisible man' took the victory

Nuyens: 'the invisible man' took the victory

Then we had the fans' favourite, Philippe Gilbert, attack the final cobbled ascent, the Bosberg, as though the finish was at the summit. But it was too soon. The leaders re-grouped. And Cancellara, recovered and restored, went again, taking his earlier breakaway companion, Sylvain Chavanel, with him. Finally, hitching on to this duo almost as an afterthought, was the hitherto invisible Nick Nuyens.

It perhaps told us little. But it added to the entertainment by affording the viewer the voyeuristic pleasure of witnessing what goes on inside a team car.

Richard Moore
Quotes of the week

We also had aggressive, committed riding from BMC, which helped keep the race alive behind the flying Cancellara; we had the British champion Geraint Thomas coming of age, bridging up to the front group after the Bosberg, then having a dig to try and set up his Team Sky colleague Juan Antonio Flecha; and we had the hero of Flanders, Tom Boonen, making a last-ditch attempt to catch the leading trio in the final kilometre.

It was spellbinding, breathless stuff, with a final twist when the invisible man, Nuyens, pipped the man of the race, Chavanel, for the win, while Cancellara finished a disappointed third.

Did anyone care that Nuyens hadn't been one of the men who'd really animated the race? Perhaps, and there was certainly sympathy for Chavanel, who spent most of the 260km in the thick of it. But you could only admire Nuyens' guile.

And the Belgian's surprising success underlines the earlier point. Cycle racing is fantastic when it swings in such unpredictable fashion: if it was just about strength, Cancellara would have won.

As Nuyens said: "I'm know that I'm not the best rider." Yet he won not through luck, but because he was smart, because he can sprint, and - most importantly - because he was there at the end of a typically brutal race.

Innovation

The Tour of Flanders also included an innovation for a major classic: cameras and microphones in the team cars. Thus we heard Jonathan Vaughters instruct his Garmin-Cervelo riders, Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar, not to contribute to the chase behind Cancellara's first escape.

And we heard canny Wilfried Peeters, in the Quickstep car, explain to Cancellara's Leopard Trek team car, why their man - Chavanel - would not, and could not, work with Cancellara. "He's too strong!" protested Peeters, raising his eyebrows - as we all did - at Cancellara's apparent ability to put time into a group of favourites led by six BMC riders, while Chavanel could only glue himself to the Swiss rider's back wheel.

Later, after Cancellara's abrupt collapse, when Gilbert's gutsy attack on the Bosberg succeeded only in establishing a fragile lead, Marc Sergeant, in the Omega Pharma-Lotto car, told him: "Ride the time trial of your life!"

And we had schadenfreude in the Saxo Bank car as Bjarne Riis and friends whooped while Nuyens out-sprinted Cancellara. Twelve months earlier, Cancellara, riding for Saxo Bank, had high-fived Riis on the same stretch of road as he rode to victory, before he joined the mass exodus to Leopard Trek over the winter.

In terms of the arguments for and against the use of race radios, it perhaps told us little. But it added to the entertainment by affording the viewer the voyeuristic pleasure of witnessing what goes on inside a team car.

Which, in my experience, seems usually to be less concerned with how to execute the race strategy, and more with the banter that flows between director and mechanic, the timing of lunch, and - most critically - the identification of an appropriate place to stop to answer the call of nature (not easy when the roads are packed with fans, as they are in Flanders).

I'll return to the more serious aspects of the race radio debate in the future...

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