Fabian Cancellara dropped home favourite Tom Boonen on the race’s penultimate climb, the Muur, to time trial his way to an impressive solo victory in the Tour of Flanders this afternoon, waving the Swiss national flag as he crossed the line almost a minute and a quarter ahead of the Belgian. Philippe Gilbert finished third for the second year in a row, more than two minutes down on the winner.
The two had got off the front of the race with 40 kilometres to go and began the climb of the Muur together before, as the road narrowed and the cobbles and gradient got tougher heading towards the summit, Cancellara accelerated with apparent ease, leaving behind the struggling Boonen, out of the saddle as he desperately tried to hold on.
By the time the Team Saxo Bank rider reached the chapel at the top of the climb, and with just the Bosberg left of the day’s 15 climbs, the race was the World and Olympic time trial champion’s to lose.
There was no way that the Swiss rider, who last year suffered the misfortune of having his chain snap on the Kopppenburg, was going to let that happen, and by the time he reached the Bosberg, he was a minute ahead of the Belgian national champion, twice winner of the Tour of Flanders in the past.
Today’s victory was the first in the race for Cancellara, winner of Milan San Remo in 2008 and Paris-Roubaix two years earlier. Boonen will doubtless be looking to exact revenge in the 2010 edition of the latter, which takes place next Sunday.
While Team Sky had forced the pace as the race entered its closing 50 kilometres, with Matthew Hayman getting off the front on his own for a while before Cancellara and Boonen made their move, none of their riders figured in the top ten finishers.
Vacansoleil's Bjorn Leukemans made it three Belgians in the top four - although none finished in the position the home crowd would have wanted - followed by the American pairing of Garmin-Transitions' Tyler Farrar in fifth and George Hincapie of BMC Racing in sixth.
Next came the top British rider, Roger Hammond of Cervelo TestTeam, with an excellent seventh place.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.