Tom Boonen Wins 3rd Gent-Wevelgem, 26th Team Win
Boonen made a legendary addition to his palmarès on Sunday. After a leg wrecking team effort by Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team to get themselves to the front of the race, then placing Boonen in perfect position for a sprint victory, he took off up the middle of the road in the final meters to win his third Gent-Wevelgem.
Only Eddy Merckx, Mario Cipollini, Robert Van Eenaeme, and Rik Van Looy won Gent-Wevelgem three times. Boonen beat Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Matti Breschel (Rabobank) across the line. Boonen used a bike throw, but didn't need it as he cleared the line by almost his entire bike before Sagan crossed.
"This morning at briefing decided not to take risks because of Ronde van Vlaanderen, but if we survived the last trip up the Kemmelberg, we would try to do the sprint." Boonen said of the 2100m, 4.9 percent average gradient climb with a max ramp of 21 percent. "It's the key point of the race, about 35km from the finish. We passed with four or five riders so that was really a good sign. I came from the second row. It was a bit close on the left hand side, but I made the right decision because, with the headwind, I tried to stay covered until the very last moment. Then, when I saw the possibility, I decided it was time to do the sprint. I'm in good shape. I already showed my condition on Friday and I am content."
Gert Steegmans, Gerald Ciolek and Dries Devenyns did tremendous work to ensure Boonen was in the key move of the day. Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) and Sagan went up the road to try and catch the remaining riders of an original nine man breakaway with less than 33kms to go in a 235km race. Two of those riders, Jon Izaguirre (Euskatel-Euskadi) and Anders Lund (Team Saxo Bank), attacked the group earlier and had less than 2 minutes of a gap when Cancellara and Sagan made their move. Steegmans initially tried to bridge on his own, but then returned to a chase group that included Boonen, Ciolek and Devenyns. Steegmans, Ciolek and Devenyns then led the charge to the Sagan and Cancellara chase, which eventually caught the remnants of the original break with a little more than 27kms to go.
Meanwhile, a group of several sprinters fell off the back of the chase group. Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) slowly saw their race contention slip away as the Boonen chase group caught the Cancellara and Sagan group with 26km remaining. That left only Lund and Izaguirre dangling up the road, with a one minute gap. Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team worked at the front to chip away at the gap, encouraging other teams to assist in the case. By then time 17kms remained, the Cancellara and Boonen merged group caught the duo and Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team dictated the race from there.
"The team once again was super strong," Boonen said. "Steegmans in particular was a really key rider. The team did their best fight to make the front, they expended all energy they had to try and help. It's the team spirit we have in this moment on this team. The entire team is showing its power. Other teams are as strong as ours, but we have to say this moment we are not so bad either. We have a team where — I am not a guy who screams at my teammates, but with our team I don't have to say the same thing 10 times. Everybody knows what they have to do."
Devenyns, who worked hard to make sure Boonen was in the key move earlier, eventually lost contact with the group after doing his job. That left Steegmans and Ciolek to work at the front for Boonen. Ciolek buried himself to chase down an attacking Team Sky rider with 5km to go, and once that was done it was up to Steegmans to deliver Boonen to the line.
"Steegmans did something really unbelievable today," Boonen said. "He kept the speed so fast so I could do my sprint.
As the sprint began, there was a crash in the back involving several riders. Boonen was not one of them, and he took off for the win as chaos erupted behind him.
"I will now try to focus on recovery, eating, and sleeping as well as possible and then try to do my best at Ronde van Vlaanderen," Boonen said. "I am not like Cancellara or other guys who can solo for 50km. I don't have the engine to do it. I will try to be in control and see what happens. The Ronde van Vlaanderen course is different. It's harder than in the past. Everybody I think will wait a bit. You never know what can happen with a parcour like that. I'm really happy to win Gent-Wevelgem. These races in Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix — I live for races like these. I like these and these are where I have to try and really perform even if every race I always do my best."