Crashes marked the 96th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen just as much as the 16 hellingen. Pre-race favorite Fabian Cancellara, Sebastian Langeveld and Johan Vansummeren were among the riders to fall out of contention when they touched down inside the final 65 kilometers of the race.
Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) crashed hard in a feed zone with 62km to go. The Swiss champion lay on the road for minutes, his race over, and emergency personnel transported him to a local hospital with a fractured clavicle.
The RadioShack team reported after the race that Cancellara had suffered three fractures to his right collarbone. The injury will almost certainly require surgery and end Cancellara’s classics season.
The absence of the 2010 Flanders champion likely changed the finale substantially, but winner Tom Boonen wouldn’t speculate how. Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) said he learned of his top rival’s crash minutes later.
“Ten minutes later, I heard the news, we had already been riding for 200km,” said Boonen. “It didn’t change anything for us, we did our own race. It’s a pity for Fabian, I know how it feels, you do a lot of work, and then you lose all your chances. But that’s bike racing, sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are not. I can’t say what it would have meant for the race, it’s impossible to know. I’m sure he will come back stronger; he has the Olympics coming up, he still has chances for a nice victory this season.”
Sebastian Langeveld (GreenEdge) went down in a freak crash with a spectator a few kilometers later, also suffering a broken clavicle. Langeveld, the Australian squad’s top hope in De Ronde, move onto a sidewalk adjacent the course in order to move forward in the peloton with 42km remaining.
As the Dutchman came around a lightpole, a spectator caught between the peloton and a handful of riders on the bike path began to run away from the road. Langeveld’s front wheel caught the spectator’s leg and both fell to the ground.
A third crash, a multiple-rider pile-up at the base of the Paterberg, with 34km remaining, cut free the race’s first major selection, with Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) among the riders on the wrong side of the split.
Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) sat on the left of the peloton, a few riders from the front, when the group entered the hard, right turn leading onto the climb. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma) tangled with his tall countryman and Vansummeren ended up in the barriers at the exit of the corner.
A three-rider pile-up ensued in the middle of the single-lane, cobbled climb and seven riders snuck through to create a dangerous move with two climbs remaining.
Vansummeren remounted and finished 49th, at 1:06. It is unclear at this point if the other riders involved in the crash suffered significant injuries.
The peloton would come back together before the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, but the efforts by Boasson Hagen and Team Sky to close the gap left the Norwegian reeling when Boonen went away for good with Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) on the climb.