Tom Boonen [Belgium & Quickstep] became the first man since compatriot Eric Leman in seasons 72/73 to win De Ronde back to back on a sunny but very windy Sunday afternoon in Meerbeke. In taking his twelfth victory of the season Boonen made a mockery of the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ and Patrick Lefevere demonstrated once again that he currently has no peer as a classics DS.
The two biggest and most beautiful races of the year have now gone to the laminated flooring boys; Boonen’s success coming after team mate Filippo Pozzato’s wonderful Primavera win in March. Like a true great, Boonen imposed himself upon the race, two incisive pieces of riding put him at the head of affairs with only fellow Flandrian Leif Hoste [Discovery] for company.
In the two-up sprint Hoste had no answer to the frame-deflecting power of the young world champion and had to settle for second again after taking the same position on the podium in 2004 behind Steffen Wesemann [Germany & T-mobile].
Boonen’s first piece of magic came on the Koppenberg [climb 9 of 17 at 185 of the 258 kilometres], as others slid and stalled he simply sat there hands on the tops, backside well back over the rear wheel to retain traction on the damp cobbles and rode away from the rest demonstrating ‘power-climbing’ at its very best.
This move effectively ended the race for all but the elite, included in this key selection however were three of Boonen’s Quickstep team mates – Olympic champion Paolo Bettini [Italy], compatriot and Primavera-winner Pozzato and Belgian champion Serge Baguet. Hoste and team mate George Hincapie [US & Discovery] made the selection too, and it was the De Panne-winner Hoste who attacked on the Valkenberg climb [# 14 at 226 kilometres].
Boonen again made the right decision, responding instantly then riding hard with Hoste. Big Dutchman Karsten Kroon [CSC] just failed to get up to them and whilst the gap looked bridgeable for a long time no one was strong enough to get across, especially with Bettini and Hincapie blocking ruthlessly.
Their lead built steadily and at the foot of the fearsome cobbled Muur at Geraardsbergen it was over a minute; if Hoste was to avoid a sprint with ‘Tornado Tom’ then he had to force a gap here.
But it was the heavier-built and higher-geared Boonen leading for most of the climb to the delight of the fans, Hoste’s more slender legs, twirling a small ratio a la Lance took over for the top part of the climb – the Kapelmuur – and at the top the gap was wearing-on for two minutes.
The two shared the work evenly until the last kilometre or so when Hoste refused to come through. Boonen spoke to his adversary at length as the crowd was treated to a slow-motion ride through the streets of Meerbeke with Hoste steadfastly refusing to come past the man with the rainbow jersey and the number one on his back.
The two turned right into the finishing straight and Hoste tried a ‘long-one’, the world champion was way too vigilant to be suckered though and was on to him in a blink, demonstrating that surge of watts that has had the guys at Time having to reach for the CAD programmes to give him a bike that he can’t bend.
Boonen paused momentarily on the Treks’s back wheel before arching his back like a tiger and making Hoste’s effort look foolish, finishing lengths clear with his arms high. Riding in to the inevitable scrum of photographers Boonen was soon in the arms girlfriend Lore and DS, Lefevere for hugs, kisses and tears of joy.
Big George Hincapie made a formality of the sprint for the last slot on the podium to give Discovery second and third places to add to Hoste’s two stages and the overall at De Panne.
Ronde winner in 1999 and 2003 Peter Van Petegem [Belgium & Lotto] was fourth just to show that he’s not finished yet – if it’s bad weather at Roubaix next Sunday then De Peet won’t be far away. Up-and-coming Italian Allesandro Ballan [Lampre] was fifth and big CSC hope for Roubaix, Swiss time test specialist Fabian Cancellara was sixth.
Damp early conditions gave way to a sunny but brutally windy afternoon with a number of riders succumbing to early crashes on the slick cobbles, not Boonen though, who rode the race like a true champion – on the front.
Is the “double double” possible at Roubaix next weekend?
– Stay tuned to PEZ for photos and more roadside reporting of this big weekend –
Results – 90th Tour of Flanders
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step 6.24.26 (40.4 km/h)
2. Leif Hoste (Bel) Discovery Channel
3. George Hincapie (USA) Discovery 1.17
4. Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Davitamon
5. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC
7. Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick.Step 1.50
8. Karsten Kroon (Ned) CSC
9. Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile
10. Roberto Petito (Ita) Tenax