Sunday, April 3, 2011

Swiss cheese

The big story today was that LAY-o-par Superman Fabian Cancellara cracked. He had a bad day. Even though he was able to recover somewhat before the finish and thereby hold on to a third spot, he had shown weakness. The slumped shoulders were all too visible. The infamous muur, symbol of his superhuman strength and legendary site of his magic motor, became Fabian's death march. He lost a minute from the bottom to the top and when he crested, everyone was back on his wheel.

Cramps on the muur

Now, you might think that everyone in Flanders is ecstatic that Nick Nuyens won. But if you think that way you do not understand Belgian cycling fans very well. Nuyens was not a favorite, even though he just won Dwars door Vlaanderen, a race with many of the same climbs as the Ronde.

First off, a lot of Belgians rooted for Cancellara. The Swiss superman's only official fan club is in Belgium and it is 7,000 members strong. Cancellara probably has as many, if not more fans in Flanders than native son Nick Nuyens. He certainly has more Belgian fans than Swiss fans.

But that is not the key issue. Many feel Nuyens stole the victory. He did not attack like Fabian or Gilbert or Chavanel. Even though Gilbert is French-speaking, and having a French-speaking Belgian win the Ronde is unheard off heresy, today many Flandriens were eager to welcome Gilbert.


Nuyens on the other hand, hung on for dear life throughout most of the race, and then -when it mattered- sprinted around everyone and won. It is not the way Flandriens win.

Many commented it was "a beautiful race but not such a beautiful win."

However today's race also showed how things have changed. The weather was beautiful and large numbers of riders rode over the Koppenberg the same way tourists ride through the park. There was no rain or sleet, no mud or blood, no slipping and sliding, stumbling or even walking. The Koppenberg battle gave way to almost Tour de France-like  images of slick riders coursing through endless fields of sunflowers under a deep blue sky.

A "new" Ronde?

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