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Ronde Recap: Grading the Teams

Since today's outcome, Stijn Devolder's rather stunning breakaway win, was a tactical success as much as anything else, I thought it would be best to start with assessing the teams. This is just my $.02; there's a lot of good analysis by others in the post-race open thread.

Winners and Champions

Obviously this is a one-team category: Quick Step! On their biggest day of the year, they traded places with CSC as the team with all the right moves. While CSC are usually masterful at putting their top lieutenants in the right move and daring people to stop following their captain, Quick Step had seemed too reliant on Boonen for their non-Boonen machinations to convince anyone of their seriousness.

Not today. Devolder had the legs to go all the way, and Boonen could afford to wait for other teams to react. There were three big keys to their success. One, Carlos Barredo was doing a masterful job of looking after the Boss, so Quick Step had little reason to feel conflicted about unleashing Devo. Two, Devolder himself... did opposing DSs roll their eyes when they saw him on the attack? If so, you can't blame them. But if Stijn Devolder's talent and tactics had never converged before today, well, there's a first time for everything. And three, Boonen himself. He had his power stroke back today, and looked every bit the favorite throughout the race. Still more reason not to go galloping after Devolder, and escort the Tornado to the line in the process. Quick Step simply held too many aces today, and played them.

Strong, If Not Perfect

Let me say up front, I won't criticize anyone too harshly for not chasing Devolder when, in hindsight, they should have. Just because Quick Step had excellent tactics today doesn't mean everyone else's were bad. And anyway, saying teams "should have countered" assumes they had the energy to do so, which is certainly debatable in a race like this. A few teams deserve credit for a job well done: Rabobank, and to a lesser degree High Road, Lampre and Cofidis.

Rabo were the most aggressive team all day. Sebastian Langeveld, all of 23 years old in his first Flanders, looked at times like he might just sneak away with the title himself, attacking effectively on the Taaienberg, Berendries and Valkenberg (with others). His next decade or so should produce some real chances for victory here. Kudos also to Oscar Freire for a daring (if pointless) attack. But their top man, Juan (a/k/a Jan van der) Flecha finished the race with no regrets, a third place, and some excellent, convincing riding at the key moments of the race.

High Road, Lampre and Cofidis all deserve credit for having their guys ready at all times. Lampre placed both Ballan and Simon Spilak in the late breaks, while High Road had Hincapie on the move, with Klier waiting patiently in the wings. Klier and Eisel were both seen trying to exert some control in the middle stages of the race. Cofidis simply played their 1-2 punch, all the way to the second step on the podium. Nick Nuyens was as strong as anyone at the race's conclusion, after sitting in pretty comfortably on the Boonen group all day. I dunno if that's a badge of honor, but it was smart and effective. As much as anyone, Cofidis didn't get cheated today.


To CSC and Silence! Lotto. CSC didn't make enough of the last-hour breaks, had to contribute to their share of the chasing, and didn't have the legs to ever try anything threatening. Cancellara looked like he was capable of hanging on to Boonen but little else. Crashes took out Breschel and Ljungkvist, reducing their numbers. O'Grady wasn't a factor (if he even made the start?)

Silence! Lotto... I'll be generous and say there was little more one could expect after they were forced to rally around H\o/ste with 60km to go after a nasty mechanical. Van Avermaet made the finale, a good omen for the future. But despite having numbers, they didn't or couldn't really make the race.