Yesterday was a very special day. No, not Easter but for those affiliates of the religion of cycling. Yesterday was the Tour of Flanders, de Ronde van Vlaanderen, le Tour des Flandres. However you say it, it’s a special day in the cycling calendar and marks the beginning of cycling’s Holy Week which will be completed by the Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix next Sunday.
Fabian Cancellara blasted clear on the Paterberg, leaving Peter Sagan and Jurgen Roelandts floundering before extending his lead to one and a half minutes on the final 15km or so. As soon as Cancellara had the gap, oit was almost a foregone conclusion. So much so, that the Wikipedia page for the Tour of Flanders had already been edited before he had finished. It was an emphatic victory and a refreshing return to Monument success for the man who’s spring campaign was cruelly cut short last year by a crash in the feedzone of Flanders. This year it was Tom Boonen who suffered the bad luck, crashing only 15km into the race. Although he has no fractures, he is out of Paris-Roubaix. I hope we get to see these two men do battle in the cobbled classics again soon. In recent years they have defined the battle for glory on the cobbles of France and Belgium.
In the absence of Tom Boonen, the responsibility for foiling the Cancellara show fell once again to the cocky, young Slovakian Peter Sagan. But on the Paterberg he had no answer to the power of Cancellara and had to settle for easily besting Jurgen Roelandts in the sprint for 2nd 1min27 after the Swiss powerhouse had strolled up the finishing straight with his arms aloft.
It was a popular victory. Despite his success, for some reason Sagan does not command the same popularity as his Swiss rival. It may be the exuberant celebrations or the fact that he is certainly no student of the sport. Before yesterday’s race he absent-mindedly referred to de Ronde as “the Hell of the North” and confused E3 Harelbeke with Arenberg. The people of cycling (professionals and fans alike) place great emphasis on knowledge of and respect for the races and riders past and present. These are arguably areas in which Sagan receives nul points.
He followed up last year’s overfamiliar signature routine and his past T-shirt transgression with a pinch of the podium girl’s bum while she was kissing Cancellara. It was a disappointing end to the day’s racing, just when he needed to show himself as the modest, valiant loser. It provoked a twitter uproar which extended as far as comparisons with Wiggins’ infamous profanity-laden press conference at le Tour, discussions of the place of podium girls in 21st century sport and the status of women’s cycling.
Ultimately it is a question of opinion. Much like many will excuse Boris Johnson for his numerous transgressions because they like him, I can forgive the “cockiness” of Mark Cavendish but I don’t like Sagan which is a shame because he is undoubtedly prodigiously talented and will be successful for a long time and it would be nice to celebrate his wins rather than lament them.
I should mention that Sagan did subsequently apologise on Twitter, saying:“Was not my intention to disrespect women today on the podium. Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it.”
I watched the race in London’s Look Mum No Hands . As usual there was the usual eclectic clientele. A mixture of bike-polo varsity jackets; lycra and merino on-the-bike-off-the-bike-in-the-pub wear from the likes of Rapha and Vulpine, as well as people wearing normal clothes. I ate a good pie and salad, a bit steep at £8.50 and £1.60 for a can of diet coke. The popularity of Cancellara and the high-esteem in which his racing is held is testified by the spontaneous applause which greeted his race-winning attack on the Patenberg and then again when he crossed the line. I can’t wait for round II in a weeks time.