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Flanders roundtable: Was crash Sagan’s fault? Is Gilbert the best?

Sunday’s Tour of Flanders didn’t disappoint with all-day action, from Coryn Rivera’s sprint victory in the women’s race to Philippe Gilbert’s unbelievable long-range attack. Like any exciting race, Flanders left us with lots of points to debate, speculate upon, and reminisce about, so it’s time for a roundtable!

Where were you watching the race, and how did everyone react when Sagan crashed?

Fred Dreier @freddreier: I was walking from the pressroom to the finish line. I passed a bar that was packed with people, and a huge gasp came from the bar, as if the entire bar had just learned about the death of a loved one. I ran over to see what had happened.

Kristen Legan @kplegan: I was in the press room and and all of the reporters went quiet for one moment and then buzzed into action. A few shook their heads with disbelief and stared open mouthed at the screen.

Andy Hood @eurohoody: Like Fred, I was walking to the finish line, caught the action at a bar packed with drunk Belgian fans. When Sagan took out GVA, it was like someone had the let air out of a giant balloon. Phhhffffffffftttttt! That didn’t stop the Duvel and Jupiler from flowing, however.

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: In the car while driving very slowly and carefully from the Muur to the finish line. My co-pilot, Dave Polk of NBC, yelled a bit.

Who should be blamed for the Sagan crash? The organizers for the fencing/banner being too close to the road? A fan for leaning out too far? Or Sagan for riding perilously close to the edge?

Fred: Sagan. When you roll the dice by riding that close to the barrier, sometimes you come up snake-eyes.

Kristen: It looks like Sagan took himself down. He even said it was his fault. Flanders roads are precarious and one moment of inattention can cause havoc. It’s disappointing we didn’t get a GVA/Sagan showdown at the end, but at least it was Sagan’s own fault and not someone else’s.

Andy: This is a case of pilot error. Sagan was trying to squeeze onto a bit of smooth pavement between the cobbles and the fence. Gutter-riding can be dangerous, and it appears he clipped foot of the barrier. No fault but his own. When you fly too close to the sun, sometimes you get burned.

Caley: Definitely Sagan. Fences are like walls. If you hit them, it’s very rarely their fault. Also, if they moved the barriers five inches further in then the fastest line is on the crown. Voilá. Problem solved.

Hypothetically, if Sagan hadn’t crashed, would that group have caught Gilbert, and if so, who wins that final sprint?

Fred: It’s close, but I still think Phil-Gil stays away. He had enough time in his pocket, and my guess is if he was given a time check that said the gap was falling that quickly, he’d find another gear.

Kristen: Definitely. They nearly caught him after GVA spent 20 seconds on the ground. Plus Sagan would have pushed the pace even more. I think GVA would have won the sprint, however because he has his timing down while Sagan is still struggling with it.

Andy: I think it would have been very close. All three chasers were strong, motivated, and committed. Naesen said he believed they would have caught Gilbert, but Phil-Gil is cagey, and was doing his best to nurse that lead and leaving something in the tank. My hunch is that Gilbert would have been caught in the final 500m.

Caley: I think it would have, and Sagan would have won it. I think he knows that, and will ride on some of that disappointment on Sunday.

Did crashes and mishaps (Vanmarcke, Sagan, Boonen) ruin Flanders or make it more exciting?

Fred: The crashes made it more exciting because (sadly) they injected so much drama. All of the major crashes occurred during critical moments and had major impacts on the outcome.

Kristen: More exciting! It’s Flanders after all. You have to be strong and lucky to win at Flanders and this year was crazy.

Andy: Crashes and mechanicals are part of the monument landscape. Curiously enough, riders are rarely upset for very long when a mishap takes them out, unless it was a bonehead move by someone else. The crashes did come at critical moments during this year’s Flanders, meaning they shaped the final outcome perhaps more so than other times. But there’s no asterisk next to Gilbert’s win. He deserved it.

Caley: Those things ARE Flanders. Yes, the strongest rider usually wins, but Flanders is exciting precisely because of all these other factors, not in spite of them. It requires fitness and technique and, yes, a really solid good luck dance. Dance harder, Sep.

Are we ready to call Gilbert the best one-day racer of his generation, given his incredibly diverse palmares?

Fred: No. Phil needs to win Paris-Roubaix before we can give him that title.

Kristen: Sure. I don’t find him all that exciting most of the time but he certainly has the success to back this up.

Andy: Baaaaah, not yet. He’ll never win Roubaix, and he’s lost too much speed to win Sanremo. Today’s peloton is too specialized for riders to chase the monument sweep.

Caley: I’m ready to call him the most inconsistently spectacular one-day racer of his generation. He’s failed to factor for entire seasons with no good explanation. Weird.

On the women’s side, Coryn Rivera’s win was the first for an American — how much credit goes to her Sunweb team (especially Ellen van Dijk), and how much of it is simply Rivera’s raw talent?

Fred: I see it as a split between Rivera’s team, raw talent, her lifelong dedication to the sport. The familiar story in American women’s pro cycling is of the talented woman who picks up cycling later in life, when she’s in her 20s, and then discovers raw talent. That’s not the story of Coryn Rivera. She’s been at this since she was a child, and has spent thousands of hours refining her craft.

Kristen: Wow! What a race. Incredible teamwork by Sunweb. There’s no way Coryn would have won without the early attacks by Silke or Van Dijk’s killer chase back to the group at the end. But Coryn deserves much credit as well because she had to chase along with van Dijk and she climbed so well and had to line herself up in the group for a sprint. She timed that sprint perfectly and that is talent.

Andy: No one can win a race alone, so hat’s off to the team for having such confidence in their rising protege. But what a great sprint from Rivera! She’s going to win a lot of races.

Caley: British journalist Owen Rodgers walked up to me after the finish and asked, “Where did she learn to ride Belgian roads?” I didn’t have an answer. Indiana, where she went to college? Seems the only plausible explanation is a huge amount of raw talent. She’s also perfectly suited to much of the women’s calendar — decent climbing skills and a killer sprint. Van Dijk was crucial, but Rivera sealed the deal.

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