Strong man Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) became only the second Norwegian ever to win a classic (after Dag-Otto Lauritzen’s victory in Henninger Turm in 1987) with a last second surge, but it was PEZ-Fave Bert Roesem’s solo bid that had the Belgians cheering…
Nipping at Hushovd’s heels, a surprising David Kopp (Germany & Gerolsteiner) took second and the “fastest sprinter in the world” Alessandro Petacchi (Italy & Milram) was third.
Quickstep just missed the podium with Filippo Pozzato (Italy) proving that his Primavera win was no fluke with a fourth place which could easily have been a win but for the strong winds, which always play their part in shaping Gent – Wevelgem.
‘Mr. Consistency’, third at Flanders and winner here in 2001, George Hincapie (USA & Discovery) was fifth, with big CSC Roubaix hope, Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) reprising his Flanders sixth place. Up-and-coming Austrian, Bernhard Eisel (Francaise des Jeux) was seventh and Erki Putsep (Estonia & AG2R) eighth. His Melbourne Commonwealth Games bronze just a memory now, Allan Davis (Australia & Liberty Seguros) was ninth and completing a good day for the Norwegians, 1997 amateur world champion Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC) was tenth and one of the first to congratulate Hushovd on the best win of his career.
At 37 kilometres to go it looked like the race was going to be formality for ‘Ale-Jet’ Petacchi when the bunch split leaving Boonen behind and the Italian with a solid block of Milram team mates around him in the lead group.
Winner at Wevelgem in 1995, Lars Michaelsen (Denmark & CSC) pried himself off the front but on the long, flat straights he was never going to slip the clutches of the cosmopolitan Milram milkmen.
It was a different story when giant Belgian time trial specialist Bert Roesems (Lotto) showed his cards at 12 kilometres to go. His team went into this race in the same situation as they did last year – desperately needing a big win to lift the ever-increasing pressure from Belgian fans, media and sponsors.
After Flanders, Peter Van Petegem’s wife vented her spleen on the squad, saying that they had left De Peet isolated whilst Boonen had half his team around him right to the death.
It would be hard to criticise Big Bert after this ride however, one which came heart-breakingly close to emulating Nico Mattan’s controversial 2005 win – which effectively rescued Lotto’s early season.
Thrashing a mega-gear into the wind, hands initially on the tops before dropping on to the hooks to get down even lower, back flat, long bronzed legs pumping those big cranks this was the real-deal, death or glory – and slowly, inexorably he got the gap.
Behind it was Milram’s play and they could expect no help, especially with Roesem’s tough Aussie team mate Henk Vogels right on Petacchi’s wheel and just bursting to disrupt the chase.
Incredibly it was Milram cracking before Bert and the grimaces, nodding of heads and desperate flicking of elbows betrayed a train that was running out of steam fast, forcing Petacchi to use-up his sprint lead-out men way too early.
The cruel wind was taking its toll on the big man though and with less than 1500 metres to go the dream was fading like snow off a wall as desperation set-in behind him.
Pozzato again displayed that instinctive sense of timing that won him the Primavera with a blistering attack at the exact moment Big Bert succumbed, he got the gap and for much of the last kilometre it looked like Quickstep had done it again.
It was the surprising Kopp who committed first from a long way out, but the big figure of Hushovd was tucked neatly on his wheel, Petacchi was on the other side of the road, but this was no stage race and Alessandro’s train had already left the station.
Hushovd proved strongest and a lack-lustre Petacchi couldn’t get round Kopp with the unlucky Pozzato only over-taken right at the line
Hushovd the winner, but Big Bert was the man of the day for most; maybe it will ease the strain on Lotto – but only until Sunday.
Add one large Norwegian to Boonen, De Peet, Cancellara, Big George, Steegmans and Flecha for Sunday’s Hell of the North then.
Results: gent-Wevelgem 2006, 210KM
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crйdit Agricole 4.53.15 (42.967 km/h)
2. David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Team Milram
4. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quickstep-Innergetic
5. George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC
7. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Franзaise des Jeux
8. Erki Pьtsep (Est) AG2R Prйvoyance
9. Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros-Wьrth Team
10. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC