In a mighty show of strength, Quickstep’s Chavanel set up Tom Boonen for a well timed victory over Oscar Freire.
Boonen beat Oscar Freire (Katusha Team) by inches after being the first to open up the sprint and he just managed to hang on as Oscar Freire’s last gasp throw at the line was not enough to beat the star Belgian. Bernie Eisel (Sky Pro Cycling) was 3rd.
Tom Boonen Wins Record Fifth E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke. Photo: OPQS / Tim de Waele
“The weather made it hard,” Boonen said in an interview shortly after the race. “It was a pretty hard race, but also we had to watch and wait sometimes. It was pretty strange.” Boonen showed his strength earlier in the race, attacking on his favourite climb, the Taaienberg. He dragged along a powerhouse group of riders including Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) and Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) with 55km to go. They were chasing down a break of a handful of riders, including Oscar Gatto (Farnese-Vitti). Gatto decided to go solo as the break was reeled in.
Cancellara suffered bad luck with a mechanical, and then a crash when another rider collided into him as he was getting his front wheel changed. During this chaos, Sylvain Chavanel took Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Dimitry Muravyev (Astana) with him up the road to chase down Gatto with 30km remaining. The Boonen group chased hard behind the trio although it has to be said, the chase was just as disorganised as it was hard.
“When Chavanel attacked we were in good position,” Boonen said. “From that moment on I saved myself for the sprint.” Cancellara managed to catch the small, but strong Boonen group with a larger group on his wheel, which brought the total of riders in the original Boonen chase group to 40-50 men. As Chavanel and his break mates bridged to Gatto, Spilak was dropped. Gatto then suffered a puncture with 22km to go, which allowed Chavanel and Muravyev to take over at the front of the race with a 26 second gap.
Omega Pharma Quickstep were now in the box seat, sitting, waiting, watching and reacting as counter attacks came and went. But time was soon called on the leaders and Chavanel and Muravyev shared a congratulatory hand slap as they were caught with 7km to go. After a day of non-stop aggression, the riders in the Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Team seemed in the best position for the sprint. Leif Hoste tried to attack but was reeled in quickly and never got more than a few seconds and in the finale, it was Boonen who launched his sprint first.
Photo: OPQS / Tim de Waele
Oscar Freire worked his way to Boonen, but Boonen’s power was enough to give him the 25th victory for Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team. “I knew Freire was good, otherwise he wouldn’t have been there,” Boonen said of the finish. “I tried to make a good race. I was not really sure if I could do it in the sprint, but I was confident about the sprints I have done so far. I knew there were some other good sprinters. This victory takes the pressure off.”
Freire meanwhile was second saying “I´m quite disappointed. I felt in a really good shape, and I could have easily won because, in the end, I was faster than Boonen. Unfortunately, he knows this finish off by heart and I think that´s the reason why I´m only second.”
“He did a really good sprint, he was perfect, and instead I made a mistake. There was a bend in the last few hundred metres, and I couldn´t see that the finishing line was so close, so I started my rush too late. I´ve almost caught him and with a few more metres I could have won.”
“Anyway, I´m trying to see the positive side of this second position. I proved that my shape is really good after a not so nice ´Milano-Sanremo´. The team is really strong and thanks to their help, I´ll try to win Sunday in ´Gent-Wevelgem´. For ´Tour of Flanders´, instead, I think I´m not one of the forerunners: there are riders that knows that course off by heart, so it won´t be easy”.
It was also a good result for Team Sky. Not only did Ian Stannard beast it at the front of the race for his teammates approaching the finale, the Austrian Bernie Eisel demonstrated his Classics pedigree once again as he kicked for the line, narrowly edged out by Oscar Freire (Katusha) and winner Tom Boonen. After the race Sports Director for Team Sky, former pro Steven de Jongh, was understandably proud of the performance the team had shown with a reduced squad.
“It was a really nice podium finish from Bernie. I think having six guys on the start grid and doing a ride like the boys did, we can’t complain. Me and Servais [Knaven, Sports Director] are really proud about of what the team did today. The team was organised. Ian was strong as an ox. Edvald didn’t feel too good on the climbs but I think with this being his first race on the cobbles this season he just needs to get back into the swing of things. He will be better come Sunday.”
“Bernie felt good in Tirreno every day except for the day he pulled out. He recovered well and I think today was the best he could have got out of it. He got beaten by Boonen and Freire who are fast guys but he did a good sprint.”
Not to be for Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek)
Experience, history, team support and determination can all fly out the door when Lady Luck turns her back on you. As the two-time defending champion, Fabian Cancellara found today after he had a solid plan for the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke. A series of unlucky events turned the best laid plans into a mere memory. “Today was a day of bad luck,” said Fabian Cancellara after the race. “Luckily I don’t have so many of those days. I crashed early in the race but it wasn’t anything much. But straight after that I got two punctures right in a row. Tony Gallopin was there to bring me back but that was only a prelude of more to come.”
With 13 steep climbs, some of them cobbled, the 203km/126 mile race effort would test the mettle of any rider. Throw in a few crashes and punctures and even “Spartacus” has him limits. Four-time winner Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) made a move at 54k to go on the Taaienberg with Cancellara quickly on the wheel. Others bridged up, including Radioshack-Nissan-Trek rider Tony Gallopin, ready to work for his leader.
“The original plan was to try something on the Kwaremont and that worked. There were only four guys in the group. Then the puncture of the front wheel came but I had to keep moving on the cobbles to the mechanic for a new wheel. Bennati came by me and I told him to keep riding so at least we’d have someone in the front group. Our Trek rep Jordan Roessingh was at the top with a wheel but we got hit from the back by a Rabobank rider, both of us hitting the ground.”
“By then I’d lost more than one minute. Rasty was there for me and we made it back to the group again. But it was all too much. So much bad luck makes it hard to play for the win.” Roessingh’s injuries required a trip to the hospital after the race.
Footnote: Cancellara later says on Twitter that some one stole the front wheel after the crash…
1. Tom Boonen Omega Pharma – Quickstep 04:51:59
2. Oscar Gomez Freire Katusha Team @ same time
3. Bernhard Eisel Sky Procycling @ same time
4. Leonardo Fabio Duque Cofidis – Le Credit En Ligne @ same time
5. Sep Vanmarcke Team Garmin – Barracuda @ same time
6. John Degenkolb 1t4i @ same time
7. Matthieu Ladagnous Equipe Cycliste FDJ – BigMat @ same time
8. Alexandre Pichot Europcar @ same time
9. Alessandro Ballan BMC Racing Team @ same time
10. Sébastien Turgot Europcar @ same time
11. Matti Breschel Rabobank Cycling Team @ same time
12. Jens Keukeleire GreenEdge Cycling Team @ same time
13. Michael Morkov Team Saxo Bank @ same time
14. Peter Sagan Liquigas – Cannondale @ same time
15. Maxim Iglinskiy Astana Pro Team @ same time
16. Edvald Boasson Hagen Sky Procycling @ same time
17. Lloyd Mondory Ag2R – La Mondiale @ same time
18. Marco Marcato Vacansoleil – DCM Pro Cycling Team @ same time
19. Bjorn Leukemans Vacansoleil – DCM Pro Cycling Team @ same time
20. Preben Van Hecke Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator @ same time
22. Fabian Cancellara RadioShack – Nissan @ same time
27. Filippo Pozzato Farnese Vini – Selle Italia @ same time
28. Luca Paolini Katusha Team @ same time
29. Danilo Hondo Lampre – ISD @ same time
36. Lars Boom Rabobank Cycling Team @ same time
45. Stijn Devolder Vacansoleil – DCM Pro Cycling Team @ same time
47. Leif Hoste Accent.jobs – Willems Veranda’s 00:25
48. Ian Stannard Sky Procycling 00:53