Swiss ace Fabian Cancellara won the one-day classic Tour des Flandres for the second time on Sunday.
The 32-year-old 2008 Olympic time-trial champion — nicknamed Spartacus — came home in the clear at the end of the 256km ride from Bruges ahead of Slovakian Peter Sagan, while Jurgen Roelandts of Belgium was third.
Cancellara, also a four-time world time-trial champion, won his previous Tour des Flandres in 2010, but returned for this edition with bad memories of last year’s race, where he crashed and fractured his collarbone.
“A year ago, I was lying on the ground and a difficult period of my life had begun,” Cancellara said. “Since January, I can count on the fingers of one hand the days I have spent at home. It is a choice that I made and my family understood because I wouldn’t have many other occasions to win this in my career. I dedicate this victory to my family, my wife and children, and also to the team, who worked brilliantly for me.”
“This second win is the best possible Easter present that we [the team] could have hoped for. I will be able to celebrate it a little today and then to think calmly about next Sunday [Paris-Roubaix],” he said.
Cancellara and Sagan, the other favorite for the race, had fought out a thrilling duel once they joined Roelandts at the front with 16km to go.
Both of them fought for supremacy over the last two climbs of the race, Vieux Quaremont and the Paterberg.
While Sagan was able to stay on Cancellara’s wheel on the Quaremont, he was unable to stay with the merciless pace of the Swiss rider on the Paterberg, 13km from the finish.
Cancellara left alone like in a time trial never faltered as he rode to the line to win his fifth major classic of his career.
Sagan conceded that Cancellara had been the better rider on the day, but was delighted to have taken second.
“I am happy with my race, I have time on my side to eventually win this very difficult race,” the 23-year-old said. “I fell 100km from the finish, someone braked in front of me. I came back and I did my best to win, but Cancellara was the strongest.”
The early part of the race had seen defending champion and home favorite Tom Boonen crash out after 19km.
The three-time winner of the race was treated in hospital for bruising to the elbow, left hip and right knee, but X-rays revealed no broken bones.
“Today, the pain was to be my lot. We look to next year,” Boonen tweeted.
Following the race there was controversy, as Sagan was accused of sexism and harassment after he was pictured pinching the bottom of a podium girl.
Cannondale’s Sagan smirked toward the camera as he grabbed the bottom of a blonde hostess, one of two podium girls who were giving congratulatory kisses to race winner Cancellara.
His actions caused an out-pouring of anger on Twitter.
“Shame that Peter Sagan has so much class on a bike and so very little off it,” British cyclist Michael Hutchinson tweeted.
Later, he added: “I’m a little surprised that probably 50% of the Sagan-ass-grabbing-gate replies I’ve got have been pro-Sagan. (Maybe I shouldn’t be.).”
Jane Aubrey, editor of Australian Web site cyclingnews.com, also condemned Sagan’s actions.
“Anyone excusing Sagan’s behavior due to his age, needs to think again. In the workplace, it’s called harassment,” she tweeted.
Sagan later took to Twitter to apologize for the incident.
“Was not my intention to disrespect women today on the podium. Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it,” he tweeted.