Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won a four-way power sprint to the finish line on Sunday to defend his Tour des Flandres title and clinch one of the year’s toughest classics for the third time.
In the sprint, Cancellara beat a trio of Belgians, with Greg van Avermaet taking second place ahead of Sven Vanmarcke and Stijn Vandenbergh.
“It was man against man and I just kept pushing,” Cancellara said.
Last year, Cancellara won the classic by relying on his overwhelming time trial talents and this time he won with a finish that no one could match.
“Amazing day again, I feel sorry for the Belgians,” Cancellara said after he crossed the line with pumping fists aloft.
Cancellara unleashed his explosive finish after 259km of racing, crossing the line in 6 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds.
With his victory, Cancellara joined five other greats of cycling who have won the Tour des Flandres three times — Belgians Tom Boonen, Johan Museeuw, Eric Leman and Achiel Buysse, and Italian Fiorenzi Magni.
Along with finishing second in the Milan-SanRemo classic, the victory in Oudenaarde made Cancellara the overwhelming favorite to also win next Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix UCI WorldTour classic — the cobblestone classic which he also has won three times.
Whatever happens there, this Sunday’s victory further confirms the 33-year-old Cancellara as one of the greatest one-day riders of his age.
It was supposed to be a clash of giants between Cancellara, three-time winner Boonen and upcoming star Peter Sagan, but when victory seemed to be slipping away with Van Avermaet and Vandenbergh away by a minute with 20km to go, Cancellara was the only one who had the power to turn his fortunes around, despite the lack of teammates around him.
He took Vanmarcke in his slipstream and powered to the head of the race. From there on, he was savvy enough to keep the three Belgians in check, before launching his unstoppable finish.
Alexander Kristoff of Norway, who won Milan-SanRemo, finished fifth — 20 seconds behind. Boonen was seventh, 28 seconds behind.
The classic was raced under overcast conditions with the temperatures hovering at about 14?C.
The riders move to northern France for Paris-Roubaix next Sunday, which concludes the first part of the classic spring season. Afterwards, the riders switch the cobblestones and flat farm fields for the wooded hills in southern Belgium and the Netherlands.