E3 Prijs - Vlaanderen - Harelbeke: Chavanel, Boonen in Top 10, OPQS Aggressive Throughout
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team rider Tom Boonen was the rider who created the select group, which eventually produced solo race winner Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Leopard) at 209.5km E3 Prijs - Vlaanderen - Harelbeke on Friday.
Boonen attacked on perhaps his favorite climb: The Taaienberg. Boonen's move established an escape group of eight riders that included OPQS teammate Zdenek Stybar, Cancellara, Daniel Oss (BMC Racing Team), and others.
Those eight eventually became a group of 11 riders with 46km to go, and Cannondale leading for Peter Sagan in the peloton. Stijn Vandenbergh of OPQS was one of the riders, giving OPQS three in the escape group. As Boonen pushed the pace on the Paterberg, and Cannondale splintered the peloton with their effort to chase the break, it appeared the very elite group would be a threat for the race victory.
However, it was Cancellara's attack on Oude Kwaremont that won him the race. He rode away from the break, and as the chase group changed in terms of who was present — such as Chavanel and Sagan, as the other OPQS riders lost contact — Cancellara kept riding strong. The gap was more than a minute, but the chase group managed to cut down his advantage to 40" with 11km to go. That was as close as the chase could get. Cancellara won alone, Sagan was 2nd and Oss 3rd out of the chase group.
Chavanel, who led the UCI WorldTour going into the race, finished 6th. Boonen was 7th.
"From the Taaienberg on we were ahead with that group and there was a lot of wind," Boonen said. "We really had to push to get a gap and I didn't have the luxury of feeling comfortable enough to eat. Then on the Kwaremont, the light went out for a few minutes. I had a very tough moment on the Kwaremont. I thought it was the end of the race for me. But after that I took some gels and a bottle, and recovered well after that. But of course, the other guys in the chase, they were gone. In normal conditions I would never drop from that situation. But today, I was already happy to be there. It was the first final I did for this season. It was a nice race for a start. I think at the end I am very happy with the results and also the feelings in the race. I think it shows I don't have to worry that much."
"Today Cancellara was very strong," Chavanel said. "Behind him we tried to chase. There was collaboration between us after the Kwaremont, but it wasn't possible to catch him. The final was really fast due to the tailwind and it was a bit too late. As for my performance, I felt good today even if not super, but this is the first of a series of races where I can be a protagonist. Until Paris-Roubaix I will try to be there."
"As a team we had a good race today," Sport Director Wilfried Peeters said. "It went exactly how we thought it would up until the Kwaremont. Then on the Kwaremont was the acceleration of Cancellara. Boonen lost contact but when we came out from Kwaremont on the big road we were still in the chasing group with three guys: Chavanel, Stybar and Vandenbergh. At that point, Stybar and Vandenbergh paid the price of the great work they had done in the group before to support the team, and they lost contact from the chasing group. We did not ask them to wait for Boonen as he was already supported by Kwiatkowski. It was simply a bad moment in the race. However as a team we performed well. Chavanel showed again that he is in good shape and Boonen, after a difficult moment on the Kwaremont, was able to recover and take the 7th place with a strong sprint. On Sunday we will try again to get a good result counting on Mark Cavendish."