December 2004
   
   
   

Great Expectations: a Look Back at 2004 (Part 2)

This year Johann Museeuw, the “Lion of Flanders”, was scheduled to retire shortly after the Paris-Roubaix. Possibly one of the greatest ever classics rider still had good form. All of Belgium and millions of fans around the world were hoping to see classic Museeuw performances at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. In Flanders Museeuw came up short as he, Peter Van Petegem, Paolo Bettini and most other heavy hitters spent their race marking each other. When it came to the penultimate climb of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, a break escaped and it was Stefan Weseman driving the breakaway and taking a well-earned victory. In recent years he has been consistently one of the most impressive riders in the Northern Classics. At the finish this was his payday.

The pub alongside the pave section at Carrefour d’Arbe must be one of the strangest in the business, it only opens one day per year: Paris-Roubaix race day. This year the particularly brutal set of stones that lead past the pub witnessed Johann Museeuw’s final hurrah. Thanks largely to his accelerations the ‘winning selection’ was made as it passed the pub. At that point it looked good for Museeuw, although talented, his breakaway companions certainly were not in the same league as the “Lion of Flanders”. Legions of Museeuw fans believed that the expected fairy tale ending to his astounding career was being played out. It was not to be. With about 6 km to go Johann punctured and a sloppy wheel change took him out of contention. About 17 seconds after Magnus Backstedt took a well deserved win from Tristan Hoffman, Roger Hammond and Fabian Cancellara, Museeuw entered Roubaix velodrome with his great adversary and friend Peter Van Petegem. The two of them circled the track to a thunderous ovation as Museeuw cycled his final meters in one of cycling’s hallowed five monuments. Later that day beer consumption in Belgium peaked as fans across the country raised their demys (pints) and toasted Johann’s health and his many great cycling exploits.

What came next was not expected by anyone. Seven days after Paris-Roubaix the action moved to the Netherlands for the Amstel Gold race. A brutally tough race it is often dominated by high winds and frigid rain. This year the wind wreaked havoc but the roads were dry. Towards the end of the race a series of climbs, which include ramps of up to, 22% (on the Keutenberg) usually determine the race outcome. The final push up the fearsome Cauberg saw a two-rider match between perennial favorites Davide Rebellin and Michael Boogerd. Rebellin succeeded in claiming his first World Cup win since 1997.

Three days later Belgium’s semi-classic, the much revered Fleche Wallone, was run off in cool but dry conditions. This race is most famous for its lung busting climb up the 22% Mur de Huy which is tackled three times with the final ascent being the finish. Again Rebellin was in charge on the final climb and at the finish he easily out sprinted Danilo Di Luca. That weekend he was the outright favorite for Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which was scheduled for April 25th. Different final climb but the same results as he out sprinted the luckless Michael Boogerd to claim a unique first in cycling records. Unfortunately Rebellin is not exactly one of the most charismatic characters in the bunch. For my money, he represents one of the best ‘wheel suckers’ in the business. But wins are wins, and his April 2004 campaign represents one of the greatest of cycle racing feats. As a bonus he earned leadership in the World Cup competition, which he eventually lost later in the year to Paolo Bettini.

In part 3 the final World Cup push, the other fall classics and a brief commentary.

 
       
         
         
   


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