With about 82 km to go, the Stuart O’Grady (AUS) break is going strong but as they negotiate sector 16 he loses contact with Gert Steegmans (Bel) and Mathew Hayman (AUS). Steegmans rolling the torso and hip hike, and Hayman with a roll motion when off the saddle, Steegmans would be doing the same later on off saddle. In the mean time Radio Shack is leading the peloton but not making any ground. Did you have a look at the flapping of the arm muscles in many riders and absorbing energy that does not get to the torso?
Damien Gaudin (Fra) rode very well and about to catch the lead group with a very active Sidebend motion, very active even on the cobbles, soft hand grip allowing him to move with more freedom. He did have a tough time catching the break, and he was not the only one. This is the one race when 6 seconds might as well be 3 minutes and out of sight, so close and yet so far. There was no quit in the guy, his 5th place is a credit to his effort and guts. I made a similar observation of Hubert Dupont, who also displayed a very active SBHH during the Criterium Int, quite similar to Thomas Voeckler’s handbook.
At about 51km to go Fabian Cancellara (Swi) and Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) both head to the front of the peloton and Chavanel would disappear with a mechanical. He would land in the group behind along with Thor Hushovd. A bit later, Cancellara is about 20 sec behind the second group with no teammates, unless you consider the cobbles as his ally, which he used to advantage. He erases the gap to the first chase group in no time. The last rider they want to see.
Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) are still ahead, Vanmarcke applying a roll/hike motion and apparently closer to a SBHH on the cobbles. Cancellara is chasing these guys, Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar (Cze) can’t be too far back. Behind them Gaudin and Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa). Cancellara catches Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) and Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel), Stybar joins. Advantage Cancellara. Up to this point Omega Pharma could not have done any better, Steegmans working in front early, Chavanel positioning himself well in the peloton, then Stybar and Vandenbergh in the lead group and Terpstra (finished 3rd) not far behind. Which had to be a disappointment when they had the numbers. Vandenbergh loses it on the cobbles and a bit later Stybar may have hit a spectator, but it looked like he may have hit the edge.
With 11 km to go Cancellara and Vanmarcke are performing very similar skill sets, sidebending with a roll of the lower torso and a hike, almost in unison. Both kept a high level of skill even while completely exhausted. Vanmarcke is earning his way to the podium, working with Cancellara, he is one big strong kid. The absence of Boonen certainly opened the way for Vandenbergh and Stybar to show what they can do. The other revelation certainly was Gaudin, a credit to the French team riding with panache.