Flanders Race Report #1
Read Alastair Hamilton’s first-in account of the 2002 Tour of Flanders…
The 264 km Tour of Flanders proved a vertitable “battle royale” of cycling’s big guns under unusually sunny skies across the historically battle-rich belgian countryside. It was a real war of experience versus ambition as Andrea Tafi (Mapei) took the win over Museeuw (Domo), Peter van Petegem (Lotto), Hincapie (US Postal) and Daniello Nardello (Mapei).
Against all odds, the sun shone & a Spanish rider got in the break in to-days Tour of Flanders. Rodriguez (Kelme), Scholz, Kuyckx & Thijs went away at 29 kms and took a maximum of 19 minutes 43 seconds with 133 kms to go at Molenbeke. By this time De Jonge of Rabobank was in Hospital with a shoulder problem. Of the 3 Spanish teams entered, iBanesto, ONCE & Kelme not much was expected so already the day was made for Kelme.
At 129 kms a small crash with Nico Eckhout (who later abandoned with a broken wrist) delayed some riders as Fassa Bortolo, Rabobank & Palmans at the front did some work. Even the world cup jersey of Cipollini could be seen, with matching shorts – at the front of all places! Two wheel changes for Steels didn’t seem to keep him from the front for long.
The break of 4 were slowed by a level crossing at Roborst but still had 19 minutes when they hit the Molenburg. When the peloton got there it was down to 14m 18 secs., lead up by Van Petegem. With 99 kms still to cover Armstrong could be seen near the front, maybe not working but staying out of trouble.
Ludo Dierksens started to make a selection just before the Wolvemburg, a 19% tarmac climb, the breakaways were now at 13m 15 secs. going into Oudenarde.
Tafi tried his luck, but was chased down by Cassanni of Domo, which caused a group of 10 to pull away, but with-out any team leaders.
On the Kluisberg,15%, Thijs (Palmans) was the strong man of the group, dropping first Rodriguez then Kuyckx of Vlaanderen, though they still had 11m 13 secs in hand. Behind Kroon & Hunter had slipped the now compact bunch, with only Van Hyfte & Hayman trying anything between. It was here that US Postal took over at the front for Hincapie, soon pulling back the escapees.
Rodriguez had by this time made it back to the other 3, but his legs had gone, & so had Thijs, up the road on his own with 77kms to go and with an advantage of 9m 46 secs by the top of the 13% Knokteberg.
The peloton was still being led by US Postal with Armstrong showing well in second place, while at the back Jacky Durant lost contact. Telekom took over on the Oude Kwaremont, and surprisingly, Cipollini was still near the action most of the way up.
This caused a bit of a selection, and the stars started to move forward for the kill, Zabel, Museeuw, Bartoli, Steels, Hincapie & Van Petegem as they entered the Province of East Flanders, still 7m 32 secs back from Thijs with 63 kms to the finnish. The Koppenberg was awash with Flemish Lion rampant flags, the hill is 22% with 600 metrs of cobbles, things were a bit split up with Bettini out the front with Museeuw, Armstrong & Cipollini still there, and a large group lead by Ludo Dierckxsens a few meters behind.
Sorrensen, Hincapie, Tafi & Missaglia had nearly a minuite on the bunch at 49kms on the Tiaanberg. But all would come to-gether as Van Petegem, Museeuw & Nardelo, closed the gap up to the others, on the Eikenberg, to make a group of 8. Of course Bartoli had missed the boat & had to do it on his own, trying to replace Kuyckx who had been caught & dropped by the group & then by Bartoli himself.
Now AndreaTafi was making things difficult for everyone as usual, so difficult that Bartoli never made it across.As the race made its way towards the Tenbosse it was in pieces, Thijs on his own, the group of 8 at 1m20 secs and an other 9 ( Zanini, Armstrong, Hoj) at 30 secs, and what remained of the peloton splitting & reforming, some distance back.
With 19 kms to go they caught Thijs in sight of the Muur, he managed to hang on until Museeuw attacked on the first slopes. Van Petegem soon took over at the front, now the group was 5, going past the old church at the top. Museeuw, Hincapie, Van Petegem, Nardelo & Tafi, this was it, but not much co-operation, with attaks from Museeuw, again, & Nardelo. Hincapie started to work which encouraged the others, but more attacks from Tafi did not help thegroup cohesion with 10 km to go.
Behind Sorensen was trying his hardest to close up the 33 secs, with Cassani & Missaglia not doing too much. Two or three more attacks from Tafi pre-emted Van Petegem launching himself into the motorbikes in the last 7 km. Closed down by Nardelo on his own, leaving Tafi to police the other 2, but all together for the last 5 km, all thinking about the sprint when Tafi went again, and no one wants to chase.
Tafi wins a brilliant victory on his own, 6hours 58 mins 43 secs, & about 30 attacks later, Museeuw 2nd, Van Petegem 3rd.
Top 10 Results
1. Andrea Tafi (Ita-Mapei) 6.58.43
2. Johan Museeuw (Bel-Domo) – 0.20
3. Peter van Petegem (Bel-Lotto) – s.t.
4. George Hincapie (Usa-USPS) – s.t.
5. Daniele Nardello (Ita-Mapei) – s.t.
6. Rolf Sцrensen (Den-Landbouwkrediet) – 1.11
7. Enrico Cassani (Ita-Domo) – s.t.
8. Gabriele Missaglia (Ita-Lampre) – s.t.
9. Mario Cipollini (Ita-A&S)
10. Erik Zabel (Ger-Telekom)