Peter Sagan of Cannondale re-inserted himself squarely into the picture for the Tour of Flanders with a cagey win in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen today in Harelbeke, East Flanders. Sagan avoided a large pileup that delayed, among others, Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing, and joined an elite selection forced by Geraint Thomas of Sky on the Oude Kwaremont which rode to the line intact, where the Slovakian took the easy sprint victory.
That break, also containing OPQS's Stijn Vandenbergh and Niki Terpstra (fresh off a win Wednesday), rode powerfully behind the ever-strong Vandenbergh, and extended its lead to around a minute inside the final 5km before the chasing peloton gave up. From there, the attacks were constant -- Terpstra over a bridge, Vandenbergh around a traffic marker, Thomas on one or two occasions -- all designed to drop the dominant sprinter Sagan. But Sagan was ready and had just enough to hold it together. He took off around the final corner in Harelbeke and wasn't seriously threatened.
In hindsight, the biggest threat to Sagan was that Cancellara would tow the entire peloton (of some 15 remaining riders) back to the lead group. Cancellara seemed to have the strength, not surprisingly, but a combination of factors rendered that a nullity. First, Cancellara had already launched himself in his usual fashion, but from a good 20 seconds behind, in order to catch up to people like Tom Boonen, after the split resulting from the final crash of the day. Cancellara kept storming up the road, with help from teammate Stijn Devolder, but the group only grew, and drew Tyler Farrar of Garmin as well as John Degenkolb of Giant, for company. [Degenkolb had been in the front group until Thomas' attack on the Kwaremont.] Unable to shake the sprinters, Cancellara and co eventually stopped chasing. Sep Vanmarcke of Belkin caught an escaping Tony Gallopin, Cofidis, inside the final km and took the sprint for fifth. Borut Bozic led the mini-peloton home ahead of Farrar.