SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) – Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) escaped from the high-speed carnage in the final meters to win Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs well ahead of Russian Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) and Yauheni Hutarovich (FdJ).
Defending champion Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) was among those to hit the ground as the final sprint wound up. After a touch of wheels, Leopard-Trek’s Wouter Weylandt went down, taking Farrar with him, and CJ Sutton (Sky) went catapulting over the top. They were still on the ground as Cav put his hands up across the line.
Although conditions were hot and dry, crashes plagued the peloton throughout the dead-flat race, which took riders out on a 150km northeast from Antwerp and finished with three circuits in nearby Schoten. Most of the crashes weren’t serious, but a few riders left the race in an ambulance, including Team Sky’s Edvald Boassan Hagen and Sjef De Wilde (Veranda’s Willems-Accent) .
It was Cavendish’s third win at the race, following victories in 2007 and 2008. After a comical podium incident in 2008, Cavendish came to the podium this time in street shoes.
Two Paris-Roubaix favorites crashed earlier in the race, but are still relatively healthy and preparing for Sunday’s race. Quick Step’s Tom Boonen touched down twice, and BMC’s George Hincapie didn’t finish after taking a spill. “I’m really sore right now,” said Hincapie, adding that he is certainly still planning to ride reconnaissance of Paris-Roubaix pavé sectors Thursday in preparation for the big race.
HOW IT BEGAN
Huge crowds poured into Antwerp’s historic downtown square in downright summery weather to watch the send-off of the 99th edition of Scheldeprijs. Defending champion and resident of nearby Ghent, American Tyler Farrar was clearly a crowd favorite, chatting to the race announcer on stage in Flemish and waving to the crowds.
Before the race rolled out, all the favorites said the still conditions meant no break would stay away.
That didn’t mean a break wouldn’t try.
A five-man move went clear before the 200km race hit the 10km mark. They carved out a gap of about two minutes, which they held until about 50km out, when NetApp, Rabobank, Garmin-Cervélo, Quick Step and others started to bring them back.
The men in the move were David Boucher (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha), Baptiste Planckaert (Landbouwkrediet), Dieter Cappelle (Veranda’s Willems) and Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD).
At 24km, with the lead down to 11 seconds, Boucher decided to strike out on his own on the cobbled climb of the finishing circuit. Malori was able to get on the wheel, and the two cooperated to keep hope alive. However, it was only a matter of time before the pack swallowed them up.
With 10km to go, it was all together. Leopard-Trek was on the front and the sprinters’ teams began to jockey for position.
With 9km, world champion Thor Hushovd took to the front on the pavé climb, with Saxo Bank and HTC-Highroad riders lined up behind. Hushovd quickly dropped off the front and then out of the pack.
Hushovd wasn’t the only one going backwards. The world champ found himself on the wheel of a certain Fabian Cancellara, who offered a handsling to Hushovd as gaps opened in front of him. Hushovd smiled and waved it off — the two Paris-Roubaix favorites were clearly intent on surviving to fight another day.
Up at the front of the race, Katusha put its squad on the front and ramped it up, with Sky and Garmin elbowing into the mix. As he had for each of the three circuits, Cavendish sat comfortably near the front, right on the wheel of his trusty lieutenant Bernie Eisel. With 1km to go, track superstar Leigh Howard took over duties setting up the Manxman.
“Leigh Howard came right off the track with the world Madison championships and he was the lead-out man today,” Cavendish said. “We were a bit too far back so I had to shout at him to go at 1km. He went incredibly hard from 1000m to 500m. It was incredibly fast and that strung the peloton out, but he died with 500m to go. I was banking on someone hitting an early one out. CJ Sutton went for a long one. I slotted onto the wheel, and I knew then that when I hit 250m I’d sprint.”
As the front of the sprint went around Sutton as he faded, wheels touched, and bikes and bodies went flying. Weylandt and Farrar hit the ground, and Sutton hit Weylandt and catapulted over. De Wilde also hit the ground hard, and was soon put into a neck brace and hauled from the scene.
Farrar picked himself back up and rode back to the team bus on a second bike without bothering to cross the finish line. At the team bus, Farrar said he felt someone hit his back wheel hard, just as he was starting his sprint. The next thing he knew, he was sliding across the ground.
“It’s a pity because before I was crashed, I was really well positioned and I had good legs,” Farrar said. “The team did everything perfectly all day. I would have loved to repeat here this year and that was the goal. I know a couple of other guys went down, including Wouter Weylandt, who’s my best friend. I hope everyone’s okay. Like I said, the team rode perfectly today – I’m grateful for the hard work everyone did. Now we look ahead to Sunday.”
In the sprint, however, was looking ahead to the finish line as he turned on the afterburners. With a few bike lengths between himself and the rest of the field, Cavendish sat up before the line and thrust three fingers at the cameras.
“I missed the race the last two years, and I was really upset to miss it,” Cavendish said. “I won it the first two years I rode it. So I was really glad to be back.”