Apparently a cousin of mine has won the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour de Flanders bicycle race). A distant one mind you, I am well into the double-digits on that side of the family alone. From the tone and volume though, you’d have thought someone was being shot during the call. After consulting with some other family members (who are capable of speaking in complete, English sentences), it was apparently a very riveting race, right up till the last minute. I’ll try to track down a video if I can, but in the meantime, here is the Associated Press news article. Viva Italia!
Ballan Sprints to Tour of Flanders Victory
(Associated Press) Italian Alessandro Ballan of the Lampre team used his sprint prowess to seal victory in the 91st edition of the Tour of Flanders, held over 259km between Bruges and here Sunday. Ballan, who becomes the first Italian since Andrea Tafi in 2002 to win the race known as the ‘Ronde’, surged ahead of Leif Hoste of the Predictor team to snatch victory from the Belgian in the closing metres. It was the biggest win of Ballan’s ever-impressive career, but the third, agonising, runner-up place for Hoste in four editions.
After a day of drama which saw numerous crashes and futile attacks, Ballan and Hoste pulled ahead of the pack as the climbed the Grammont, the 18th and last of the race’s series of steep and often cobbled climbs.
Their attack left Belgium’s two-time winner Tom Boonen and a number of other hopefuls struggling to follow, and in the final 16km Ballan and Hoste worked mostly together to maintain their advantage.
Quick Step leader Boonen, who had crashed earlier in the race picking up a wrist injury, crucially failed to follow their move – a setback which more or less ended his hopes of a rare third consecutive victory.
Despite the late threat of chasing pair Karsten Kroon and Tomas Viatkus, and a strong bunch of contenders just behind them, Ballan kept his cool as the final kilometre approached, even as Hoste gave up taking relays at the front.
That was perhaps the only tactic left for the Belgian one-day specialist, given Ballan’s superior sprinting.
But once Hoste moved from behind to in front of Ballan with around 300 metres to go, the Italian, who won the Three Days of La Panne race in midweek, hit the big gears, easily pulled level and cruised past Hoste just before the line.
Ballan said: “I gave everything I could on the Grammont. Hoste didn’t do much work in the closing kilometre, then he launched the sprint.
“But I managed to overtake him in the final metres.”
Victory in the second one-day classic of the season, after Milan-San Remo two weeks ago, will give Ballan ideas ahead of Paris-Roubaix next week, another cobble-laden monster classic, in which he finished third last year.
Hoste would be forgiven for wanting to soon make amends, having now been dominated by Ballan, Boonen last year and Germany’s Steffen Wesemann in 2004.
Earlier in the race Swiss Fabian Cancellara, the 2006 Paris-Roubaix champion, had impressed by forcing the pace on a cobbled climb around 50km from the finish.
Nearly 13km further on, he launched a more incisive attack after the summit of the Valkenberg climb.
Cancellara was followed by Belgian Gert Steegmans, of Boonen’s Quick Step team, and they soon caught up with a seven-man breakaway whose lead at the front began dipping dramatically in the final 30km.
However none of those riders were interested in stretching their slim advantage, and they were all caught by a 50-man group, including Ballan and Hoste, at the foot of the Grammont climb.