Great Expectations: a Look Back at 2004 (Part
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.
Belgium and millions of fans around the world were hoping to
see classic Museeuw performances at the Tour of Flanders and
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
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
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
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
certainly were not in the same league as the “Lion of
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
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.
next was not expected by anyone. Seven days after Paris-Roubaix
the action moved
to the Netherlands for the Amstel
A brutally tough race it is often dominated by high winds
rain. This year the wind wreaked havoc but the roads were
dry. Towards the end of the race a series of climbs, which
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.
succeeded in claiming his first World Cup win since 1997.
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
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
for April 25th. Different final climb but the same results
out sprinted the luckless Michael Boogerd to claim a unique
first in cycling records. Unfortunately Rebellin is not exactly
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