Nuyens nicks win in thrilling Flanders finish

Cillian Kelly climbs into the saddle to bring us a round-up of this weekend’s cycling action.

Image: Yves Logghe/AP/Press Association Images

THE TOUR OF FLANDERS was won yesterday by Nick Nuyens (SaxoBank – SunGard). The Belgian out-sprinted Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep) and defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) to take the biggest win of his career.

The race was animated primarily by Cancellara, who attempted to repeat his performance of last year by blowing everyone off his wheel with about 40km still remaining.

It looked as though he had succeeded, with 20km to race he had a one minute gap to a large chase group, with Chavanel the only rider who managed to stay with him. It seemed only a matter of time before the World time trial champion dropped Chavanel too and soloed home for victory once more.

But Cancellara seemed to cramp on the iconic climb of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and his one-minute advantage tumbled remarkably quickly as the race regrouped with twelve men at the front. Philippe Gilbert (OmegaPharma-Lotto), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank) all put in serious efforts to attack the group and get away on their own but each attempt was closed down.

Eventually it was a recovered Cancellara who broke clear once again in the final two kilometres. And once again it was Chavanel who had the strength to stay with him, but Nick Nuyens also managed to latch on to the back of the attack. The three stayed clear until the finish despite the ominous sight of Tom Boonen (QuickStep) making a late charge from behind with 500 metres to go.

But Nuyens wasn’t to be denied as he pipped Chavanel and Cancellara in the three-man sprint to win the second monument classic of the season. Nuyens has finished runner-up here before in 2008 and he won the under-23 edition in 2002. He has also won semi-classics such as Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Dwars door Vlaanderen, but a major victory like this has always eluded the 30-year old.

It was one of the most exciting finales to the Tour of Flanders in years. The past three editions have been won by a rider soloing over the line, where there has been time to sit-up and celebrate in the final straight. Essentially, since 2008 the race winner had already been decided with 20km to go. But yesterday 12 riders were still in with a chance to take the victory with 2km to go which led to the breathtaking finish we were treated to.

Philippe Gilbert, by finishing ninth, has extended his remarkable run of form in the monument classics. He has now finished in the top 10 of the last nine monument classics that he has raced, dating back to the 2009 Tour of Flanders.

The classics season continues next Sunday with the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix where Fabian Cancellara is also the defending champion and will again be an overwhelming favourite. Having finished second in this year’s Milan-San Remo and now third in the Tour of Flanders, should Cancellara finish on the podium once more in Roubaix, he will become the first rider to grab a podium place in each of the year’s first three monuments since Sean Kelly, who achieved this feat in both 1984 and 1986.

Elsewhere, Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) was in action in the GP Miguel Indurain on Saturday, a Spanish one-day race where previous winners include former Grand Tour champions Pedro Delgado, Alex Zulle and Indurain himself (before the race was rebranded in his honour).

The race was won by Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) who held off Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) to take the first victory for his team this year.

Martin is primarily considered a stage racer but he has shown potential in one-day races in the past by finishing 8th in the 2009 Tour of Lombardy and by winning the Japan Cup and Tre Valli Varesine last year. But Martin’s erratic form this year continued as he failed to finish the race. His season carries on today as he is due to take part in the six-stage Tour of the Basque country, a race won in the past by both Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche.

The An Post-Sean Kelly team were also in action on Saturday as they raced the one-day Hel Van Het Mergelland in the Netherlands. Sam Bennett, Mark Cassidy and Ronan McLaughlin were all present as part of the eight-man team. Home rider Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil) won the race which was notable for the fact that there were only 47 riders who finished. The only An Post-Sean Kelly rider who could count himself among them was McLaughlin who finished in 41st place, almost five minutes down on Ligthart.

The next challenge for the An Post-Sean Kelly team is due to be the Grand Prix Pino Cerami on Thursday, a one-day race held in Belgium. The team’s best previous result in this race was achieved by the the now retired Benny de Schrooder who finished fifth back in 2008.

Read more of Cillian Kelly’s cycling column for here >

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Cillian Kelly  / Twitter: @irishpeloton

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