The favourites lived up to their tags in Flanders, but, writes Anthony Tan, there’s a Classics guy at heart who no longer has his heart in the Classics.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

The favourites lived up to their tags in Flanders, but, writes Anthony
Tan, there's a Classics guy at heart who no longer has his heart in the

So. Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara triumphs in 'De
'. No surprise.

Up till last Sunday, given what he's
already achieved and the way he dominated the RVV tune-up race the
weekend before, the E3 Prijs, it was his race to lose.

"Everything almost went perfectly," his team-mate, room-mate and friend
Stuart O'Grady told SBS post-race in the finish town of Ninove,
who was smiling so much, he almost looked like he won it himself.

"When you have an engine like that in your team, you can let him loose
at 80k to go, 60k to go… it's going to be the same result.

can see how he was switched on the last couple of weeks, the last couple
of months," said O'Grady. "He's been so geed for it, I think he was
just afraid of making a personal mistake… [I've] basically just been
trying to keep him under control before he wants to unleash his fury."

Were there any revelations? Not really.

With Tom Boonen (Quick
Step) and Phillipe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) in respective second and
third, and another Belgian, Bjorn Leukemans (Vancansoleil), fourth, it
was perhaps Tyler Farrar's (Garmin-Transitions) sprint for fifth ahead
of George Hincapie that showed he is coming of age and is soon set to
take the mantle off the man he outsprinted as North America's best
Classics rider.

As far as the Aussies were concerned, I felt the
standout performances were from O'Grady and Mathew Hayman (Sky), who
were by some margin, the best domestiques throughout the mammoth
six-and-a-half hour, 259 kilometre effort.

Although Sky's main
man, Juan Antonio Flecha, didn't quite ride to expectation, that doesn't
take anything away from the Trojan Hayman (who still had enough left to
finish 13th – the best Aussie performer), and I'm almost certain the
Spaniard will fare better this coming Sunday in Paris-Roubaix, which,
like Boonen, is a race that suits him better.

Now, it would be
remiss of me not to mention the accomplishment of Lance Armstrong
(RadioShack), who finished in the same 30-man group as Farrar, Hincapie
and Hayman, placed 27th.

With 50km remaining, Armstrong was
still in the front group and looking good, albeit not a winner. For a
guy who last rode this race with its interminable series of short,
sharply-pitched climbs the Flemish call (("hellingen")) five years ago
as part of his preparation for a record seventh Tour de France title, it
was mighty impressive.

So much so, that as I sat couchside in
the deep, dark den of chez Tomalaris last Sunday evening, along with Cycling
editor Phil Gomes, almost simultaneously, Phil and I
remarked on whether Armstrong had made the right choice to target the
Tour and only the Tour in his comeback years.

Before you give me
a virtual slap in the face and say the suggestion is far-fetched,
remember that Armstrong was a Classics rider before he was a Tour rider.

In fact, so good was Lance pre-cancer, he was what you'd call a
Classics specialist who relished the inclement weather, and whose
versatility allowed Big Tex to be competitive in one-day events in
spring (1st in Flèche Wallonne, twice 2nd in Amstel Gold and
Liège-Bastogne-Liège) and autumn (2nd in San Sebastian and Championship
of Zurich).

And there's that world road championship he won in
Oslo in 1993, aged just 22.

While third in his comeback Tour de
France is a remarkable achievement, he – and the rest of the contenders –
now found themselves in an unenviable situation of portcullis down.

On one side of iron-grated gate stands Alberto Contador. On the other
is the rest. And for the next five years at least, Contador's Castle is
looking ominously impenetrable.

Yes, the Tour is and always will
be the blue riband event in cycling. But if Armstrong's objective is to
create exposure for his sponsors and his cancer cause, as is his wont,
he needs to win.

Perhaps, therefore, he should spend a little
more time training to win a Classic that, based on past performance,
he's well capable of doing - instead of riding a Classic to see if he
can find a hole in Contador's seemingly impenetrable fortress, come the
first week of the Tour.