Fabian Cancellara of Trek outlasted a trio of Belgians in the final meters to win his second consecutive and third overall Ronde van Vlaanderen. The Swiss star sealed the deal by the narrowest of margins -- not in terms of space but energy. He won a depleted sprint by attacking from the fourth position behind Greg Van Avermaet of BMC, Sep Vanmarcke of Belkin and Stijn Vandenbergh of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, ducking left and hitting the gas just enough that neither Vanmarcke nor Van Avermaet could truly get on his wheel. Van Avermaet took second by a bike length over Vanmarcke, with Vandenbergh fourth. Alexander Kristoff of Katusha came in solo for fifth.
Cancellara made the race, as he so often does, with an acceleration on the final passage of the Oude Kwaremont, which immediately drew out Vanmarcke, and saw rivals like Peter Sagan of Cannondale, Tom Boonen of OPQS, and Kristoff miss out for good. By then, Van Avermaet was up the road, having attacked before the start of the climb with Vandenbergh joining him for company. Before too long Van Avermaet was alone, but Vandenbergh got with the Cancellara duo and the three tracked down Van Avermaet shortly after the Paterberg. The chasing pack was ever so close, but eventually lost contact for good.
In the finale Vandenbergh tried a couple attacks, including just inside the final km, but the other two Belgians sat tensed and waiting for Cancellara's move. The Swiss, meanwhile, was hearing in his ear that Kristoff, a noted sprinter, wasn't far behind with Niki Terpstra of Quick Step for company. He nonetheless waited as long as possible, took off with 300 meters to go, and sealed his record-tying third victory.
Cancellara joins a crowded field of riders holding that record, including Boonen, who didn't have it today once again. That said, Cancellara was hardly dominant as he has been in the past, which sets up a highly interesting Paris-Roubaix. Stay tuned on that one.
One final note, there were several terrifying crashes, thanks in part to nice weather which kept the bunch together far into the race. We are waiting for reports of injuries, including one devastating injury to an elderly spectator who collided with Garmin's Johan Van Summeren.
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