Baloise Belgium Tour Stage 1: Boonen Takes the Win, Steegmans with Fantastic Leadout
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team rider Tom Boonen couldn't have launched his sprint in more perfect position at the conclusion of the 173.6km Baloise Belgium Tour Stage 1 on Wednesday. He won with space, beating Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) placing 2nd and Theo Bos (Belkin ProCycling Team) placing 3rd.
Gert Steegmans launched Tornado Tom on the front after a battle between the three Belgian team leadouts in the final few kilometers. Belkin, Lotto-Belisol, and OPQS all had the front at different points. But it was Steegmans who guided Boonen to the front on the right side in the final few hundred meters. That final surge by Steegmans helped launch Boonen, and Greipel was forced to come around to try and catch him. He was unable to, and OPQS now has 33 victories, in three disciplines, in 2014.
Steegmans also finished 10th.
The race came back together with 17km to go, but there were a few attack attempts before the peloton settled down in anticipation of the bunch sprint.
OPQS will defend their overall leadership at 170.4km Baloise Belgium Tour Stage 2. The day after is also the 16.7km Stage 3 ITT. Tony Martin, two-time defending champion, will likely try to make his mark in that stage.
"When I came back from AMGEN Tour of California I wasn't feeling good," Boonen said. "I was feeling a bit sick and then with the jet lag on top of it, it was a bit rough. It took me some time to get back to where I was before California. I came here with a lot of questions about how my legs would feel and how I would compare to the rest. But I must say I'm really happy with this sprint. We started at 12 kilometers to the finish line with the leadout. We started controlling there because it was a very hectic final. The last four or five kilometers were always getting wilder. We positioned ourselves further back, but then Steegmans led me out perfectly. He took me to the front until 200 meters to go and I started my sprint. At one point I did hold back for a second because I was afraid it was too long. But then I went and I made it to the finish line. So, I'm proud to finish off the work of the guys today and I am happy with my condition. As for the next days and the GC leadership of the team, if you look at what Tony Martin did the last two years I think it's pretty clear he has the best chance to win the overall for OPQS. If I can make 5th or 6th like last year, I will be very happy. Tomorrow is another chance for me to win the sprint, and I will go full gas to try and repeat the success of today."