Tour of Flanders: Tafi scores another for the veterans; Hincapie 4th

George Hincapie seems to be making a habit of collecting fourth places in World Cup classics. It's a habit he wants to break. But each time he looks to be in with a chance of victory, he comes up against a team with superior numbers, or loses out to one of the sport's veteran stars. In his fourth-place finishes at Paris-Roubaix, superior numbers have been the problem, while his frustration at Sunday's Tour of Flanders was due to both a stronger team (Mapei-Quick Step) and an experienced, aging winner -- in this case, Mapei's 35-year-old Andrea Tafi.

By John Wilcockson

Photo: Graham Watson

George Hincapie seems to be making a habit of collecting fourth places in World Cup classics. It’s a habit he wants to break. But each time he looks to be in with a chance of victory, he comes up against a team with superior numbers, or loses out to one of the sport’s veteran stars. In his fourth-place finishes at Paris-Roubaix, superior numbers have been the problem, while his frustration at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders was due to both a stronger team (Mapei-Quick Step) and an experienced, aging winner — in this case, Mapei’s 35-year-old Andrea Tafi.

On Sunday, Hincapie could also point to a bike change he was forced to make with 45km to go. “My chain was broken when I was in the break, and I had to stop on the Eikenberg and change bikes,” he said, moments after finishing the race. A steep, cobbled climb is not the best place to change bikes, nor was it the best place for the American to make a solo pursuit back to the break. But he made light of it.

Hinapie, 28, was one of the instigators of the winning move shortly after the front group of 50 (from 193 starters) was split on the re-introduced Koppenberg climb, which came 58km from the end of the 264km race. With the Postal team leader — who was ably supported until then by an impressive Lance Armstrong — were four riders much longer in the tooth than the Hincapie: Tafi; Rolf Sorensen, 36; Gabriele Missaglia, 31; and Enrico Cassani, 30.

As the five leaders represented five different teams, and as Hincapie was potentially the fastest of the five, it looked as though he was in line to take his first World Cup victory. But the group dynamics changed quickly when the five leaders were joined by three others on the Eikenberg, the third climb after the Koppenberg. That’s because the newcomers were none other than three-time race winner Johan Museeuw (a Domo teammate of Cassani), 1999 winner Peter Van Petegem of Lotto-Adecco, and Italian champion Daniele Nardello (Tafi’s teammate).

Thijs's 225km effort ended just 19km from the finish.

Thijs’s 225km effort ended just 19km from the finish.

Photo: Graham Watson

This elite group of eight riders was still together when, 19km from the finish, they reeled in the last member of an early four-man break: Belgian journeyman pro, Erwin Thijs of Palmans-Collstrop. Just two more climbs remained: the notorious Mur de Grammont and the easier Bosberg.

The Mur has often been the decisive obstacle in the Flanders classic, but on a day of constant sunshine with a head wind facing the leaders the rest of the way, it simply served to weed out the weaker elements. Hincapie looked the strongest and most comfortable on the roughly cobbled Mur. He easily accelerated up to attacks by first Museeuw, then Tafi and finally Van Petegem. And when Nardello became the fifth man to bridge, the winning break was in place.

Mapei was the only squad with two men in the front and made the most of it on the long run-in to the finish in Meerbeke. Tafi made one initial attack with 11km to go, drawing out the others. Again, the senior riders made Hinapie work the hardest. “I think Johan [Museeuw] and Van Petegem had a little bit of an agreement,” the American said, “because they were kind of like keying off me and making me do a little more work than I should have.”

That’s one of the disadvantages of being the youngest in the break, and when Tafi finally made his winning move 3km from the finish, there was nothing Hincapie could do about it. And neither did the two veteran Belgians — who knew that if they had chased Tafi down, Nardello would have been waiting to immediately counter them. So they simply saved their energy for the second-place sprint, one that Museeuw win easily from Van Petegem … with Hincapie fourth across the line.

Two other veterans took the following two meaningful sprints: Sorensen took a commendable sixth place from Cassani and Missaglia, just 12 seconds back, while Milan-San Remo winner Mario Cipollini, 35, outkicked Erik Zabel for ninth, 2:37 behind the winners. That was enough for the Lion King to retain his World Cup lead — that he said he may defend again next Sunday at Paris-Roubaix.

As for Tafi, who said after taking his fifth World Cup victory Sunday that “it will be hard to be re-motivated for Roubaix.” But don’t count him out. To what does he owe his late-career successes? Hard work, he said. “Last year, with broken bones and a bad stomach, I raced only 56 times. This year– with stage races in Australia, Malaysia, Spain and France — I’ve already done 40 races.”

Hard work, team strength and tactical perception all count after nearly seven hours in the saddle over some of the most punishing roads that Belgium can offer. Maybe next week, on the worst roads in France, that edge will be with the man still waiting to shift out of fourth gear, George Hincapie.

Related stories:During the race: Tourof Flanders – live updatesJohn Wilcockson’s preview: Koppenbergready for its Flanders returnAFP Preview: VanPetegem favorite for FlandersFriday’s Euro-file: Hincapieready for Flanders;

Photo Gallery


1. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei-Quick Step, 264km in 6:53:00 (38.354 kph),;
2. Johan Museeuw (B), Domo-Farm Frites, at 0:21;
3. Peter Van Petegem (B), Lotto-Adecco;
4. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal;
5. Daniele Nardello (I), Mapei-Quick Step, all s.t.;
6. Rolf Sörensen (Dk), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 1:12;
7. Enrico Cassani (I), Domo-Farm Frites, s.t.;
8. Gabriele Missaglia (I), Lampre-Daikin, at 1:14;
9. Mario Cipollini (I), Acqua e Sapone, at 2:37;
10. Erik Zabel (G), Deutsche Telekom;
11. Jo Planckaert (B), Cofidis;
12. Robert Hunter (RSA), Mapei-Quick Step;
13. Lars Michaelsen (Dk), Coast;
14. Andrej Hauptman (Slo), Tacconi Sport-Emmegi;
15. Stefano Zanini (I), Mapei-Quick Step;
16. Paolo Bettini (I), Mapei-Quick Step;
17. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Domo-Farm Frites;
18. Ludo Dierckxsens (B), Lampre-Daikin;
19. Peter Wrolich (A), Gerolsteiner;
20. Matthew Wilson (Aus), La Française des Jeux;
21. Nicolas Jalabert (F), CSC-Tiscali;
22. Servais Knaven (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites;
23. Nico Mattan (B), Cofidis;
24. Tom Boonen (B), U.S. Postal;
25. Markus Zberg (Swi), Rabobank;
26. Matthias Buxhofer (A), Phonak;
27. Tristan Hoffman (Nl), CSC-Tiscali;
28. Marco Serpellini (I), Lampre-Daikin;
29. Mirko Celestino (I), Saeco-Longoni Sport;
30. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak;
31. Emmanuel Magnien (F), Bonjour;
32. Frank Hoj (Dk), Coast;
33. Hans De Clercq (B), Lotto-Adecco;
34. Raphael Schweda (G), Coast;
35. Paul Van Hyfte (B), CSC-Tiscali;
36. Björn Leukemans (B), Palmans-Collstrop;
37. Gianluca Bortolami (I), Tacconi Sport-Emmegi;
38. Zbigniew Spruch (Pol), Lampre-Daikin;
39. Serge Baguet (B), Lotto-Adecco;
40. Peter Farazijn (B), Cofidis;
41. Dmitri Konyshev (Rus), Fassa Bortolo;
42. Denis Zanette (I), Fassa Bortolo;
43. Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa), iBanesto:com
44. Christophe Mengin (F), La Française des Jeux;
45. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), Mapei-Quick Step;
46. Filip Meirhaeghe (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago;
47. Constantino Gutierrez Zaballa (Spa), Kelme-Costa Blanca;
48. Nicolay Bo Larsen (Dk), Gerolsteiner;
49. Jan Boven (Nl), Rabobank;
50. Frédéric Guesdon (F), La Française des Jeux;
51. Maximilian Sciandri (GB), Lampre-Daikin;
52. Rolf Huser (Swi), Coast;
53. Dave Bruylandts (B), Domo-Farm Frites;
54. Erwin Thijs (B), Palmans-Collstrop;
55. Michele Bartoli (I), Fassa Bortolo;
56. Giovanni Lombardi (I), Acqua e Sapone;
57. Marc Wauters (B), Rabobank;
58. Mario Scirea (I), Acqua e Sapone, all s.t.;
59. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal 2:59 ;
60. Massimo Giunti (I), Acqua e Sapone;
61. Danilo Hondo (G), Deutsche Telekom;
62. Andreas Klier (G), Deutsche Telekom, all s.t.;
63. Jan Kuyckx (B), Vlaanderen-T Interim, at 4:48;
64. Marco Milesi (I), Domo-Farm Frites, at 5:01;
65. Stephan Schreck (G), Deutsche Telekom, at 5:22;
66. Rolf Aldag (G), Deutsche Telekom, s.t.;
67. Stefan Adamsson (Swe), Coast, at 9:14;
68. Matthé Pronk (Nl), Rabobank, at 10:13;
69. Hendrik Van Dyck (B), Palmans-Collstrop, at 12:25;
70. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Rabobank;
71. Wilfried Cretskens (B), Domo-Farm Frites;
72. Wim Vansevenant (B), Palmans-Collstrop;
73. Sébastien Hinault (F), Credit Agricole;
74. Jacky Durand (F), La Française des Jeux;
75. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Phonak, all s.t.;
76. Bekim Christensen (Dk), Coast, at 15:25;
77. Xabier Zandio Echaide (Spa), iBanesto:com;
78. Steffen Weigold (G), Gerolsteiner;
79. Bert De Waele (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago;
80. Fabian De Waele (B), Mapei-Quick Step;
81. Thor Hushovd (N), Credit Agricole;
82. Karsten Kroon (Nl), Rabobank;
83. Sébastien Joly (F), Bonjour;
84. Guido Trenti (I), Acqua e Sapone;
85. Gabriele Colombo (I), Acqua e Sapone;
86. Christopher Jenner (F), Credit Agricole;
87. Christian Vande Velde (USA), U.S. Postal;
88. Pavel Padrnos (Cz), U.S. Postal;
89. Matthew White (Aus), U.S. Postal;
90. Jan Hruska (Cz), ONCE-Eroski;
91. Franck Perque (F), La Française des Jeux;
92. François Simon (F), Bonjour;
93. Thomas Voeckler (F), Bonjour;
94. Glenn D’Hollander (B), Lotto-Adecco;
95. Kai Hundertmarck (G), Deutsche Telekom;
96. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Fassa Bortolo, all s.t.;
97. Stefan Van Dijk (Nl), Lotto-Adecco, at 16:42;
98. Diego Ferrari (I), Tacconi Sport-Emmegi;
99. Aart Vierhouten (Nl), Lotto-Adecco;
100. Max Van Heeswijk (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites;
101. Julian Usano Martinez (Spa), Kelme;
102. David Derepas (F), Phonak;
103. Tom Steels (B), Mapei-Quick Step;
104. Claude Lamour (F), Cofidis;
105. Geoffrey Demeyere (B), Vlaanderen-T Interim;
106. Torsten Nitsche (G), Saeco-Longoni Sport;
107. Jimmi Madsen (Dk), CSC-Tiscali, all s.t.

192 starters, 107 finishers

World Cup Standings after 2 races

1. Mario Cipollini (Ita) 120pts;
2. Andrea Tafi (Ita) 100;
3. Fred Rodriguez (USA) 79;
4. Johan Museeuw (Bel) 70;
5. Peter Van Petegem (Bel) 61;
6. Jo Planckaert (Bel) 55;
7. Markus Zberg (Swi) 51;
8. George Hincapie (USA) 50;
9. Daniele Nardello (Ita) 36;
10. Oscar Freire (Spa) 36;
11. Rolf Sorensen (Den) 32;
12. Tomas Konecny (Cze) 32;
13. Enrico Cassani (Ita) 30;
14. Andrei Tchmil (Bel) 28;
15. Andrej Hauptman (Slo) 25;
16. Gabriele Missaglia (Ita) 24;
17. Jan Svorada (Cze) 24;
18. Paolo Bossoni (Ita) 20;
19. Erik Zabel (Ger) 16;
20. Mario Manzoni (Ita) 16;
21. Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) 15;
22. Robert Hunter (Rsa) 14;
23. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita) 14;
24. Lars Michaelsen (Den) 13;
25. Mauro Zinetti (Ita) 12.