Record Three Wins, Top UCI World Tour Rider
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team put themselves in good position for every key move of the day in the 255.2km Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday, and the result was Belgian rider Tom Boonen winning the race in a three man sprint, jumping with about 250 meters to go. Alessandro Ballan (BMC Pro Team) and Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini) were his break mates, and Pozzato was unable to catch Boonen before the finish line after Boonen jumped. This is a record third win for Boonen at Ronde van Vlaanderen.
"It's always difficult in a race like this, especially in a headwind," Boonen said. "I made a good sprint. I think Pippo was strong. Maybe on the Kwaremont he was stronger than me. But in the sprint he didn't have as much of a chance. Of course I didn't sit down and let them go, the one real thing I had to do was jump on a wheel when Ballan went. I had to chase, and waited for Pippo to push it, but he didn't really push it."
Ballan, 3rd place finisher, was the rider who jumped first in the final sprint before Boonen jumped. Ballan attempted to get away multiple times in the last few kilometers as well, including the 1km marker. Boonen stuck to his wheel each time. The three men worked together for 15km after Ballan initially attacked on the Oude Kwaremont. The gap quickly grew to 15 seconds on a false flat, and Boonen had to fight to stay composed up the final climb of the Paterberg, so he could stick with the two men and conserve his sprinting legs. The trio, once on flatter ground, expanded their gap to more than a minute in the last 10km. Boonen continued to wait on any moves by his break mates, and he successfully kept the race scenario in his favor until the last few hundred meters. It was a watching game, until Ballan decided to jump for the final time.
"For me it's not so important to show up on climbs and try to drop everyone and maybe lose the race," Boonen said. "I have to wait for my moment and count on my sprint."
Niki Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel also had fantastic races for Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team. Terpstra finished 6th, and Chavanel 10th in a small group of riders who stuck together when the peloton blew apart on the last several climbs. Unfortunately, Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) — one of the race favorites — crashed out of the race in the feed zone before the key moves of the race happened.
"He crashed and I think maybe 10 minutes later we heard the news he wasn't in the race anymore," Boonen said. "We weren't really chasing anything. For us I feel really bad for him, but we just raced and didn't worry about the other guys. I am sad for him, and wish him a fast recovery and I am sure he will come back stronger then ever for the Olympics and for the other big goals he has."
Terpstra, Chavanel and Boonen made a select group of 11 riders with 32km to go, which included riders like Ballan, Pozzato, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Juan Antonio Flecha (Katusha) and other big names. They had more 40 seconds at one point. Vincent Jerome (Team Europcar) decided to attack with 28km to go, and Terpstra worked hard to catch him solo with 23km to go after he and Chavanel took turns at the front setting the tempo high. Terpstra eventually caught him, and, when the peloton caught the select group, Terpstra continued to battle off the front on the Kwaremont. Terpstra was reeled in, and Ballan then attacked. That is when Pozzato decided to join Ballan, and Boonen followed his wheel with less than 18km to go.
"Every extra guy we have in the final kilometers is important," Boonen said. "It was nice to see that Chava and Niki were there. We controlled the break a little bit, but everything came back just before the Kwaremont, then Jerome went, then we went after him."
The entire team worked tremendously well all race long. Stijn Vandenbergh, playing the role of domestique to perfection, worked the front and then accompanied Boonen in the back of the field as he conserved energy and had his bike examined by a team mechanic earlier in the race. Gert Steegmans, Matteo Trentin, Nikolas Maes, and Dries Devenyns were all visible at the front, contributing during the race. Chavanel threw down the hammer multiple times, and also made sure riders couldn't bridge to Boonen when he got up the road.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team has won 29 races in 2012, in three disciplines, and moves up to third place in the UCI WorldTour team classification with 349 points. Boonen is now the top rider in UCI WorldTour individual classification, with 266 points.
"Right now I am happy," Boonen said, but admitted the win hasn't truly sunk in yet. "I've been extremely busy, but maybe in the shower I will have five minute to breathe a little bit, and then it will come.
As far as the new course goes, Boonen hesitated to call the 2012 course more difficult than 2011.
"It's different," Boonen said. "The last few days everybody was talking about how it's much harder, I always said it's not much more difficult. It's just different. There are more hills in the final kilometers. It's a different race and I am happy I won it for the first edition of the new course. I think the next few races, some will race harder in the final, but you saw it. Everyone was tired on the Kwaremont. The first time they pushed it but not hard, the second time riders were getting dropped."
Results - 96th Ronde van Vlaanderen (Brugge - Oudenaarde 256km)
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep - 6:04:33
2. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Farnese Vini - Selle Italia
3. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
Top American Finishers
52. George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team
77. Edward King (USA) Liquigas-Cannondale
96. Jacob Rathe (USA) Garmin - Barracuda
Photos: OPQS / Time de Waele