Tom Boonen Wins E3H, 25th Team Win
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team continued its race dictating ways at 203 km E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke, and thanks to the aggressive race tactics, Tom Boonen — in top form — sprinted to victory on Friday. It's a record fifth victory for Boonen at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, as rider Rik Van Looy won four times in the 1960s.
Boonen beat Oscar Freire (Katusha Team) by inches after being the first to go on the sprint. Bernie Eisel (Sky Pro Cycling) was 3rd.
"I was trying to make it a nice race," Boonen said. "It was not only important for a good result, but also important for the head a little bit and the sensations on the climbs. That's why I was doing a few big attacks. I wasn't really saving myself for the sprint. But then in the end, everything came together and I think everybody was suffering. It doesn't matter if they were in the front or the back. I was not very comfortable in the sprint but sure, I was still going to do a good sprint and was trying to win. I could get 2nd or 3rd, it's always possible, but in the end I won. So I'm happy."
Boonen showed his strength earlier in the race, attacking on his favorite 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-Vini). Gatto decided to go solo as the break was reeled in.
"For me it's like a test," Boonen said of his aggressiveness. "I attack a lot of times at this race. I really would like to win, but at the same time this race is something like a test for the upcoming races. Yes, I was really focused to try to win the race, but at the same time I want to try to do something to see my condition and the condition of the other competitors."
Boonen realized he was alone in the break, with his teammates chasing behind. He, and other members of the group, sat up a bit and let more riders join the group. Sylvain Chavanel was one of them and on the Oude Kwaremont, there was an acceleration. Chavanel took Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Dimitry Muravyev (Astana) with him up the road at that time, also chasing down Gatto with 30km remaining. Cancellara suffered bad luck with a mechanical, and then a crash when another rider collided into him as he was getting his bike fixed. The Boonen group, meanwhile, chased hard behind the trio.
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 suffered a flat tire with 22km to go, which allowed Chavanel and Muravyev to take over at the front of the race with a 26" gap.
"We're really good friends, me and Chava," Boonen said. "We really connect, we don't have any problems riding and helping each other. It was nice today, he was not there all the time but he got back at the right moment. It's important to have someone like Chava. Also for him, with a little luck he could've won today. It's nice working together with him and the other guys. Right now the strength of this team, everone is on a good level. We're really tight, really close together. I think we already won with 9 different riders."
Chavanel and Muravyev and shared a congratulatory hand slap as they were caught with 7km to go. Niki Terpstra, meanwhile, covered an attack immediately following with 5km to go. After a day of non-stop aggression, Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team was ready to fight for the victory.
Leif Hoste tried to attack but was reeled in with 2km, and with just meters to go, Boonen launched his sprint. 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.
"When Chavanel attacked all of our riders controlled the race to try and help Sylvain," Sports Director Wilfried Peeters said. "But at the end there was a mass sprint. Tom began the sprint very early, like 230 meters, but we talked about that this morning before the start. We knew the finish and we knew if you start pulling at 230 meters before, there's a little corner on right side where it's possible to go until the finish line. So Tom surprised everyone with the tactic and his instinct. It was a tactical sprint. Boonen was really good and he won, so it was perfect."
The crowd was especially excited after the race to see a fellow Flandrian win.
"Today at the finish I had goosebumps," Boonen said. "The Flemish public was unbelievable."