Yesterday's Ronde was absolutely awesome and one of the best races I've ever seen. Rarely has there been a bigger favourite than Cancellara was and at around 30 kilometres to go everyone, and I mean everyone, had thought the race sealed and destined to end the way it had been tipped. Boonen had just attacked, clearly thinking that he had to do something (though I'm not sure what Chavanel would have thought about that), Cancellara got on his wheel and then, like last week and last year, just rode away. From then it was assumed Spartacus would simply pass the few leaders up the road and time trial to victory...again.
On the penultimate climb of the day, the infamous Kapelmuur, it was Chavanel and Spartacus. It was here that the whole make-up of the race changed. The gap back to the peloton started tumbling, very quickly. In five minutes, the two leaders had gone from 47 seconds clear to being joined by Gilbert, Ballan and Leukemans. Not far behind were others, such as Boonen and Flecha.
From this point on, with only about 15 kilometres left, the race was just mad. Gilbert attacked but was caught. It then looked as though there might be some sort of sprint finish. Ballan looked good. Boonen looked dangerous. Flecha, the elder statesman Hincapie, Gerraint Thomas and others were all there. Then, in the last few kilometres, Cancellera went again, followed by the seemingly indefatigable Chavanel and Nick Nuyens, who no one had even seen until now.
It must be noted at this point that Cancellera and Chavanel pulled off something special yesterday. They both spent plenty of time out the front with their noses in the wind, were caught, followed all the big moves, and then were still among the three strongest in the closing kilometres of a 260 kilometre race. Simply unbelievable.
In the end, it came down to a sprint between these two and Nuyens. Cancellera went early, at about 500 metres out then Nuyens went around him and took the win. For me, though, it didn't end quite how I would have liked. Not that it was anyone's fault, but Chavanel was held up in his sprint by Nuyens and Cancellera who moved right across the road. Now, I am left wondering and I'm sure Chavanel is too. That's why I think he hit his bars in frustration as he crossed the line. Not so much because he came second but because he didn't get a clean run to the line. But, hey, that's racing.
For me, Nuyens raced the smartest and had a bit of luck. Chavanel raced the most beautifully and courageously and displayed panache and gusto. Fabian was great, but as people keep commenting, he is human. There were many other notable parts played (Gilbert, Ballan to name but two) but these three were the ones that had the most of something on the day.
What a race! I cannot wait till next weekend...