Fabian Cancellara (Trek) does not take kindly to defeat by Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Cancellara unleashed his fury on a rider to whom he has clearly assigned the status of ‘young pretender’ at last season’s E3 Harelbeke and Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Yesterday, however, things looked different. Can Cancellara bounce back at Wevelgem in the same manner as his triumph last season at E3? The prospect of Spartacus and The Tourminator swapping titles is a mouth-watering one for fans of professional cycling.
We observed that Sagan has more second-placed finishes on his palmares than a rider considered among the sport’s elite, but this is equally true of Cancellara. Where the Slovak’s near-misses are too often the result of squandered chances, however, Cancellara’s defeats are owed more to bad luck and the lack of a finishing sprint.
There was more of the former yesterday at E3 Harelbeke when Cancellara found his way blocked by a crash as Sagan, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and the Omega Pharma-Quickstep duo of Niki Terprstra and Stijn Vandenberg. The Swiss, who last season completed his second Ronde-Roubaix double with seeming ease, showed in his response that he had the legs to have troubled them all, if not the luck.
As he learned again to his cost at Milan-San Remo, Cancellara must shed the sprinters long before the finish if he is to have a chance of victory. The flat finish at Wevelgem will not favour him if he arrives with the likes of Boonen and Degenkolb.
This hardest of rouleurs, however, has numerous slopes on which to neutralize their threat, however. And if he puts the Kemmelberg to the same destructive use he made last year of the Paterberg, and descends it with the precision he reserves for the Poggio, his triumphant solo ride to victory at the Ronde showed a flat finish needn’t spell the end of his hopes.