Flecha takes Spring Classics opener Het Nieuwsblad solo
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Flecha takes Spring Classics opener Het Nieuwsblad solo

by Bjorn Haake at 11:05 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results

Juan Antonio Flecha gave his new Sky team a brilliant start to the classics season by winning the opening race, Het Nieuwsblad. Heinrich Haussler sprinted to second place in the finishing town of Gent, ahead of Gent-resident Tyler Farrar.

Flecha and Philippe Gilbert took off 19km from the finish, but Gilbert could not hold the Spaniard's wheel.

Flecha crossed the line with his trademark shooting the arrow sign, but he also pointed out the Sky writing on his jersey. "This is an emotional day for me. You just have to keep on trying. I want to thank my directors at Sky, Steven de Jongh and Scott Sunderland," Flecha said after the race.

The decisive move seemed rather simple, according to the Spaniard, "I was on Gilbert's wheel. There was a bit of cross wind. When I went ahead, I never looked back."

Tom Boonen flatted and reached the finish more than three minutes later, but at least he predicted the winner before the race. Boonen was the only one to tip Flecha. "He is clever," the Spaniard quipped after the race with a sheepish smile.

Flecha dedicated the win to the late Frank Vandenbroucke. "I was racing today for Frank. There's a different sky and I am sure Frank is there, too."

Gilbert crashed during the race. "My left leg hurts a bit. It is not a big deal, but maybe that's when I lost today." The Belgian was unable to hold Flecha's wheel on the final cobble section, the Lange Munte. "Flecha was really strong, I was a bit surprised. I couldn't follow him on the cobbles."

Once back on the road, the gap still grew. "I tried to come back," Gilbert explained. "But I wasn't strong enough. His team was really going well, too."

Nick Nuyens looked pretty sharp today, but with two mechanicals in the decisive part of the race, he lost all chances.

No classics weather

The temperatures were around 10 degrees, with an overcast sky sometimes even offering sun - a nice spring day in Belgium, although not very classic-like.

The peloton rolled out of Gent and Tom Boonen had to change bikes already inside the neutral start zone. After only ten kilometers raced, the break of the day formed. Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil) took the initiative and he was quickly followed by Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux), Roger Kluge (Milram) and Roy Curvers (Skil-Shimano).

The peloton let the four continue relatively quietly and allowed a maximum gap of 12 minutes (km 80).

After five climbs and with the Muur out of the way, the gap was reduced to seven minutes, with 90km remaining.

On the Kruisberg, Kluge was the first of the front group who had to let go. Over the top of the Kruisberg, with a little more than 60km to go, the gap was just over three minutes.

The peloton managed to pass some train barriers ahead of the Kruisberg, with the red lights already flashing. Strict appliance of the rules would have disqualified almost the entire field.

Before the Taaienberg, all the favorites had gone to the front. There was bad news for Rabobank, as Nuyens flatted right before the climb.

Boonen repeated his trademark Taaienberg number. After 500m of cobbled climbing, he was ahead by more than a hundred meters. The bunch split in several smaller groups.

Over the Eikenberg, with less than 50km remaining, Boonen was only one minute behind the three leaders, but was in turn caught by a chase group with several of the favorites in it.

Haussler once again was in a very 'attackative' mood, but he was not given much lee-way by the others.

"I tried to attack a few times today but it was never the right group," said Cervélo TestTeam's Haussler said after the race. "No one seemed to want to work. So in the final I tried it again and I was just able to stay ahead of the group behind me. I am really happy about the second place, to be honest I was not sure about today. Actually this race was a bit of a test because of my knee, but I realized today that my form is still there I felt comfortable mixing it up at the front of the bunch."

Gilbert crashed in a left hand bend, just a few kilometers before the decisive climb of the Molenberg, but he quickly joined the group of favorites again.

The three leaders made it over the Molenberg, final climb of the day, still almost thirty seconds ahead of the chasers.

Veuchelen, Guesdon and Roy Curvers were finally caught just over the terrible Paddestraat, a two-kilometer section of the worst cobbles. Only the former Paris-Roubaix winner used his cobbles experience to hang on as  the favorites passed by.

Jürgen Roelandts was the first to reach them, with Steve Chainel and Bram Tanking the closest chasers. The latter was highly annoyed when he flatted and the neutral motorbike with spare wheels didn't notice and left him behind. Adding insult to injury, Tanking crashed on the cobbles, his flat front tire making steering difficult.

Nick Nuyens escaped the group of favorites to join the fun on the front.   But Boonen behind and Nuyens on the front flatted with around 25km to go. Things went better for Gilbert and Flecha, who reached the front group.

It was then Flecha and Gilbert who set the decisive attack with 19km to go. Flecha was stronger and rode away, while Gilbert waited for Roelandts and Guesdon.

With 15km to go, the three were already 28 seconds behind Flecha. The Cervélo TestTeam led the bunch behind..

Gilbert, Roelandts and Guesdon were caught seven km from the finish, with Flecha riding home for a well-deserved win.


1 Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky)  5:13:16
2 Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam)
3 Tyler Farrar (Garmin)
4 Luca Paolini
5 Marcel Sieberg (HTC-Columbia)
6 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)
7 Niko Eeckhout (An Post - Sean Kelly Team)
8 Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Columbia)
9 Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano)
10 Filippo Pozzato (Katusha)



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