With an enforced lay off from cycling, I was looking forward to the 2015 edition of the Tour of Flanders quite a lot. It’s a great classic Belgian cobbled race – made even more interesting by the superb form of Geraint Thomas this year. His victory in the E3 Herelbecke was a really great race to watch. It’s great to see a loyal team-worker come of age in the big races. With confidence high – perhaps it was time for Team Sky to finally claim a ‘monument’.
In the end it didn’t work out – emphasising how tough it is to win a monument. Thomas lacked the last 5% he needed to stay with the late breaks and there was a predictability in the tactics of Team Sky.
The good thing about watching cycling on TV is that it is very easy to become an armchair critic – offering advice without even getting your heart rate over 60bpm.
The 2011 World Championship victory where 9 GB riders dominated the peleton for the entire race to set up Mark Cavendish was completely unprecedented and one of the most remarkable team victories of the modern era. But, that kind of tactics is going to work very rarely – especially in hilly cobbled races.
On the plus side, riding at the front keeps you out of trouble – you are less likely to have an accident (though Wiggins still managed to came a cropper, giving something to talk about in the long build up). But, when the weather is very good like yesterday, there seems to be a lot less accidents than usual. In the main peleton (as long as you were protected from service vehicles at the back) the Tour of Flanders seemed remarkably crash free by recent standards.
Everyone else was very happy for Team Sky to burn up their matches before the really crucial last 40-30km. Alex Rowe did an outstanding ride and managed to hang on up to the last part. But, I would have liked to see Team Sky try something different, like let other teams ride on the front – try to send the odd riders up ahead (if Andre Greipel can attack at the base of a Belgian cobbled Hellingen, I’m sure Team Sky have a rider who could too. One of the crucial things about classics seems to be having riders left at the really critical part of the race. You can guarantee a team like Etiix will have 2-3 in the mix, giving more options. The problem is that by Sky always riding on the front, Thomas became the most marked man – and everyone was looking to Thomas and Sky to close down the gaps. True Thomas is in good form, but he was never an outstanding favourite like a Cancellara.