Road

Road to Meerbeke proves tough haul for Aussies at Flanders

The Tour of Flanders, the second leg of the ten-race World Cup, smiled unkindly on a few of the Australian riders competing over a tough 257km of cobblestones and short steep climbs from Bruges to Meerbeke on Sunday. Victorian Baden Cooke, one of a handful of realistic contenders for theFlemish classic known as the Ronde --won by the relatively unknown but experienced German Steffen Wesemann -- crashed out just after the halfway stage. His Fdjeux.com team-mate Matt Wilson, the Australian national champion, failed to finish as steady crosswinds pounded the peloton throughout. With 64km

By Justin Davis-Copyright AFP2004

The Tour of Flanders, the second leg of the ten-race World Cup, smiled unkindly on a few of the Australian riders competing over a tough 257km of cobblestones and short steep climbs from Bruges to Meerbeke on Sunday.

Victorian Baden Cooke, one of a handful of realistic contenders for theFlemish classic known as the Ronde –won by the relatively unknown but experienced German Steffen Wesemann — crashed out just after the halfway stage. His Fdjeux.com team-mate Matt Wilson, the Australian national champion, failed to finish as steady crosswinds pounded the peloton throughout. With 64km still to ride, Wilson’s exasperated expression said it all as painful leg cramps forced him to walk up one of the climbs with his bike at his side.

“I had double leg cramps on the Koppenberg and I just couldn’t pedal anymore. People were trying to push me but I couldn’t stop my legs cramping, so I couldn’t pedal,” Wilson told AFP. “It was a particularly hard race because of the cross winds early on,” he added. “It just pounded on the legs for the rest of the day.”

Wilson was not alone. Out of the 193 starters, 125 riders finished a race that should really be regarded as tame in comparison with next week’s Paris-Roubaix.

Adelaider Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) has had a great start to the season, finishing third in the World Cup opening race, Milan-San Remo, two weeks ago.

O’Grady also secured a good third place finish on the Ronde last year but saddled up on Sunday knowing the tough cobblestoned sections would play havoc with a broken rib he sustained in a crash last week. O’Grady eventually finished 123rd at nearly 18 minutes behind Wesemann. Cooke, the winner of the Tour de France’s green jersey for the points competition last year, should have been a contender for a top ten finish after a blistering start to the season.

However the 25-year-old also fell victim to the cobblestones, and ended up lucky to escape without more serious injury.

“It was just a stupid crash,” Cooke told AFP. “For some reason I was going terrible today anyway and I was at the back of the field getting dropped. I don’t know why — it was just one of those days.” Cooke’s mishap came as he tried to jump on team-mate Bernhard Eisel’s wheel as the Austrian sprinter tried to get back into the race after a puncture. Moments later Cooke came crashing down when his front wheel caught the edge of a cobblestone. “Bernhard had punctured and then he was coming back fast, so I jumped on his wheel on the gutter of the pave (cobblestone) and I thought if I can just hang on to him I’ll give him a turn on the flat and help him to get back on, then pull out.

“And then I just caught the edge of the pave and came down like a bag of shit,” Cooke recalled ruefully. “I’ve got four stitches on my elbow and my knee took a knock as well. I’ve hurt my head a bit — I don’t know if I’ve whiplashed it or something like that.

“But there’s nothing serious. I’ll be alright for Ghent-Wevelgem (on Wednesday),” he was quick to add. “I don’t know if I’ll be flying or anything, but I’ll be there.”

Australia’s best finisher on the day was veteran Scott Sunderland, who finished in 76th place, at 7:38 behind Wesemann.