Local hero Boonen wins Flanders
Cancellara crash robs race of Classic showdown
Last Updated: April 2, 2012 12:35pm
Tom Boonen: Celebrates his third win in the Tour of Flanders
Tom Boonen equalled the record of most wins at the Tour of Flanders with a third victory in the second of cycling's five annual Monuments.
The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider prevailed in a three-way sprint to the line, beating Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) to reclaim the title he last won in 2006.
The Belgian, also a winner in 2005, had been the clear favourite beforehand for his country's biggest race, which covered 255 kilometres from Bruges to Oudenaarde.
But the whole complexion of the contest was changed just over 60km from the finish when his chief rival Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) crashed out of contention.
The Swiss star came down in the feedzone and it was quickly clear he would be unable to continue. He was taken to hospital and later had surgery on a broken collarbone.
The next decisive moment came 34km out going up the 12.9% Paterberg climb for the second time when Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) went into the barriers and his crash caused a domino effect which held up a number of contenders near the front and forced a selection of 11 riders.
They opened up an advantage of 30 seconds but strong work from Team Sky - in particular Bernhard Eisel, Christian Knees and Ian Stannard - helped Edvald Boasson Hagen and others rejoin the front group as around 40-50 riders came back together with 20km and two climbs remaining.
Trio go clear
And it was the first of those, the Oude Kwaremont, which saw the race-defining move as Ballan attacked first and was joined by Boonen and Pozzato.
That trio gradually pulled clear of the chasing pack and, despite the best efforts of the likes of Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) to bridge the gap, they soon had the race between them.
Their advantage was over a minute going into the final kilometre and a game of cat-and-mouse saw Boonen open up his sprint early and have enough in reserve to hold off Pozzato, with Ballan in third. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) won the battle for fourth, just ahead of Sagan, with the pack 38 seconds behind the front three.
"It's amazing. I wasn't expecting it - I wasn't even feeling super today but as the race went on I realised others were just the same," said Boonen just after crossing the line in front.
"I had to count on my sprint today and it was a great finish."
When asked whether he can now double up at Paris-Roubaix, the 'Queen of the Classics' which takes place next Sunday, Boonen added: "That's another day and I'll just have to see what my condition is like."
Boonen joins a select group of four other riders who have won the Tour of Flanders on three occasions and it also vaulted him to the top of the latest UCI world rankings.