The men of the day in De Panne were Chavanel and Katusha's Alexander Kristoff who not only won the morning-stage but also rode an outstanding TT to finish in second place overall. With the form he's carrying he even has to be considered a semi-serious threat on Sunday should the racing be ever so passive. There's little chance that he could go with the best on the climbs even on this form but should there be a stalemate and a bigger group coming together before Oudenaarde he could be lethal.
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If Kristoff raised eyebrows it was nothing compared to Chavanel though. Question still remains how OPQS will play their cards but judging by the last day's racing even the Sagans and Cancellaras of this world will have to look twice at Chava on Sunday. It would take a certain kind of arrogance from Lefevere not to let the Frenchman have free reigns with Boonen on ever so doubtful form. Not that I'm saying Lef would be above that level of arrogance of course. After De Panne Omega have settled on their team for Flanders and it looks like this:
Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh, Michal Kwiatkowski, Zdenek Stybar Gert Steegmans and Iljo Keisse.
Both Keisse and Stybar make their RvV debuts and for local boy Keisse in particular it is a dream come true. Incredibly this lineup leaves riders like Van Keirsbulck and Maes on the sidelines. Remember these are guys who just finished 9th in De Panne and 6th in Dwars respectively and they don't even make the team.... Scary stuff. Personally I would have had a hard time overlooking van Keirsbulck and going with Kwiatkowski who seems like a gem you would want to save for bigger tasks than riding support in Flanders right now but that's OPQS in a nutshell. If they had Wiggins, Nibali and Contador on the team they would use them to fetch bottles in De Ronde if it would help them win.
Phinney and Gilbert out of Tour of Flanders
The biggest surprise announcement came today from BMC. Both Philippe Gilbert and Taylor Phinney will have to sit out the Tour of Flanders. Gilbert is said to be suffering from a cold he contracted at Paris-Nice but the pressrelease makes it sound as it's mostly a concession that his form isn't good enough to win him the race and he is focusing on the Ardennes instead. Phinney meanwhile has some minor (hopefully) knee pain and will try and make sure it doesn't hinder him in his main goal, Roubaix, next week. Blythe and Lodewyck take their places in the team which instead looks like this: Greg van Avermaet, Thor Hushovd, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato, Michael Schär, Marcus Burghard, Klaas Lodewyck and Adam Blythe.
Absurdly I'd almost say this late change strengthens BMC rather than weakens it. Their problem was always a surplus of chiefs and a shortage of indians and this clarifies the hierarchy a little. Greg van A and Oss are in great shape which Philbert clearly wasn't; without him their roles become clearer. Thor who has never had much luck in Flanders remains a wildcard but if he were to make it past the Kwaremont more than twice with the leaders I'd be amazed. They may lose a strong worker in Phinney but this was never going to be his race anyway and the in-form Blythe+Lodewyck clearly make up for the loss in domestique legs. All in all I'd say their chances for a result are better after this re-shuffle than before.
More team selections:
Vacansoleil: Juan Antonio Flecha, Björn Leukemans, Mirko Selvaggi, Kris Boeckmans, Wesley Kreder, Boy van Poppel, Grega Bole and Bert Jan Lindeman.
Radioshack: Fabian Cancellara, Stijn Devolder, Tony Gallopin, Danilo Hondo, Gregory Rast, Yaroslav Popovych, Markel Irizar and Hayden Roulston
Lotto-Belisol: Jürgen Roelandts, Lars Bak, Jens Debusschere, André Greipel, Marcel Sieberg, Vicente Reynes, Tosh van der Sande and Fredrik Willems
Most surprising on paper there is that Vacansoleil are pointing out Flecha as their only captain with Leukemans form apparently not where it should be. Slightly surprising seing as Leukemans is one of the most solid performers in recent years once the big races roll around. Perhaps it's a reflection of the level of contract Flecha is on and the demands the team have on him as a result? Belgian managers are notoriously un-sentimental when it comes to demanding return n their investment. As for Flechas chances in the real world it's a tricky one isn't it? There have been very few big races in the last years where Flecha hasn't been able to go with the decisive moves or at least stay in the front groups in contention for the win. And yet he is the bluntest of blunt weapons due to the unfortunate combo of a lack of tactical subtlety and lack of finishing/sprinting skills. On pure power alone he is very close to the best though. It was like that on Rabo, on Sky and there is little to indicate that anything has changed. So he remains someone that no one can really see how he is actually going to win a race rather than place admirably.
Lotto are looking to overcome their run of bad luck from these last weeks. As a Belgian squad they are under pressure to perform here even if they protest (perhaps a little too much ) that they are in no way stressed by the lack of results so far. Greipel failed to provide relief with an "easy" win or two in De Panne so the ball is now back in Roelands court to show that he is more than just a fluke sprint-winner of the national title many moons ago.
On the southern front Filippo Pozzato still insists that he is in good shape for Flanders but that he has suffered in the latest races due to the cold. So his hope is for more "normal" conditions for the weekend so that he can perform on his true level. Unfortunately for him the weather gods aren't looking too cooperative. Forecast still talks of temps just above freezing and quite windy. The risk of rain seems slim though so there's that. On the surface Pippo's chances don't look great at the moment. His Ronde last year was preceded by solid results in Dwars and Wevelgem so that didn't come out of the blue. This year he has faded repeatedly at crucial points in the races. Strangely, of the three dominant riders from last years Ronde, none seem likely to repeat that performance on Sunday.