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.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.