E3 Prijs Cycling News special for March 26, 2006
By Jeff Jones and Brecht Decaluwé in Harelbeke
Boonen equals Raas
Boonen and Ballan blow the bunch apart
Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic) has followed on from his past two
successes in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, winning it for the third time in
a row today in Harelbeke. The last rider to do that was Dutchman Jan Raas,
who did it between 1979 and 1981, although the all time record is still
held by Rik van Looy, who won it four times. And just like last year,
the World Champion demolished his breakaway companion Alessandro Ballan
(Lampre-Fondital) in a two man sprint, after the pair had escaped on the
Paterberg with 40 km to go. The best of the rest was Aart Vierhouten (Skil-Shimano),
who turned a bad couple of days into a nice result with a podium place.
"Winning on home ground and wearing this jersey is just fantastic,"
said Boonen, who then described the non-premeditated winning move: "I
knew things would happen on the Paterberg. Robbie McEwen rode up front
and dropped the pace. I didn't want to attack but nothing happened. Then
Ballan was blasting besides us on the cobbles. Immediately, I jumped on
his wheel. The pace was very high on that last section of the Paterberg.
Arriving on top, we kept a high pace and apparently the others couldn't
come back to us."
Boonen was then very confident that he would win. "Ballan was also very
strong but suddenly, after a cobbled section, he had problems with his
saddle. He spoke to me about it. I said that he shouldn't bother about
it and keep riding hard, because I would beat him in the sprint anyway."
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
Patrick Lefevere, team manager of the winning Quickstep-team, knew that
the race would be decided at the Paterberg. "I sent a message to our man
in the car that it would be good if Boonen would attack," said Lefevere
post-race. "At that moment, Robbie McEwen was riding in front of the group
on the small asphalted part of the road. That was very intelligent because
anyone who wanted to attack needed to ride three km/h faster. Ballan proved
to be the man with the best legs and guts at that moment.
"He would fit in our team. Already since 2003 he is on my list for the
team. But you can't have all the best riders of the world, can you? We've
already got Boonen, Bettini, Pozzato and in the past, we had Museeuw,
Vandenbroucke and Di Luca. But he is a great rider, there's no doubt about
that. His attack on the Poggio in Milano-Sanremo was impressive. Even
more impressive was the pace afterwards that didn't allow Igor Astarloa
to come back to them.
"Andreas Klier was also good, but he had been riding in front for most
of the race. I have the impression that two riders are riding extraordinarily.
The rest are riding on their normal level, which is also a high level
On the Paterberg, Boonen was the only Quick.Step rider in the front
group. "That's right," said Lefevere. "Though Cretskens was in the attack
early on. Van Impe did what he had to do. Bram Tankink needed to give
his wheel on a cobbled section. Afterwards, he got behind because of a
fall. Still, he came back to the front. For the others, I'll have to discuss
their performance with Wilfried Peeters. Also, you've got to take into
account that three riders of our team for Sunday are not here. Pozzato,
Nuyens and Bettini will join our squad there.
"But every race is different, so I don't have to make the account of
the Davitamon-team. Though I prefer being in our camp. Still, we'll see
after Liège-Bastogne-Liège how our classics season has been going. Until
now, we have won almost everything. If we don't win in Paris-Roubaix,
people will be there to complain about our performance."
De Waele consistent
"This proves that my second place in Het Volk was not just luck," said
fourth placed Bert de Waele. "My fitness is even better than four weeks
ago. I hope to be on top of my capabilities in the Tour of Flanders. I
can get a long way next week. I'm not going to say crazy things because
I'm a nervous guy. If I can start relaxed, I have my chances.
"Boonen's attack on the Paterberg slipped out of my attention. When
I saw him, I quickly noticed that he's riding on a different level. I
saw that because Peter Van Petegem couldn't go with them, because Robbie
McEwen got in his way. In the pursuit on the two leaders, it wasn't up
to me to lead the way, since I'm a rider of a non-ProTour-team. Sadly,
the other didn't do the job either. The sprint for third place was close.
I knew that Vierhouten was the man to beat. I came close but still the
difference was half a wheel."
Hoste too far
Leif Hoste (Discovery Channel) finished fifth, last of the three man
chase group. "Against Ballan and Boonen, there was not much we could do,"
he said. "On the Paterberg, I was too far back. I moved up with Van Petegem,
but the bird had already flown. In the chase, there were too many of us.
They were racing too much for third place. I don't understand that. Boonen
was again really strong, but we'll keep trying."
Van Petegem strong
Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto) was strong, but not strong enough:
"On the Paterberg, I was riding in seventh position. Is that too far?
The only mistake that I made is that I didn't react immediately to the
attack of Ballan and Boonen. I'm happy with my performance but I'm getting
angry about some people. Saying that I'm only performing two weeks a season
is so wrong. They should see what I'm doing for so many years now."
Gert Steegmans was riding strongly in the past weeks but today he failed
to stay with the leaders, surprisingly. "I don't know what happened. I
felt good but not super. On the Oude Kwaremont, suddenly I was standing
still. We'll have to investigate what happened with me. Hopefully it's
not too serious."
Davitamon-Lotto manager Marc Sergeant analysed his team's performance,
its best result being Peter Van Petegem's 9th place. "We were lacking
a guy like Leon Van Bon to organise a good pursuit," Sergeant told Cyclingnews.
"We've got to admit that Boonen is extremely strong. He stipulates how
things will unfold. Together with Boonen, the second strongest man in
the race joined the escape. All the others were not as strong as those
two. Last year, he was impressive, this year he looks even stronger. Even
when he's isolated, he doesn't look beatable. He reacts to everything
that moves. Probably Peter Van Petegem isn't able to do that anymore.
"We'll see more than a lot from Ballan in the future. He was really
Sergeant also reacted on the tactics of his team when Boonen punctured
before the Paddestraat: "We didn't react because he punctured, but because
we were in a bad situation in front. In future races, our tactics will
have to be changed. Getting rid of Boonen is the most important factor
in that tactic. When you don't get rid of him, probably you'll battle
for second place."
Klier annoyed, but fit
Hunt, Klier and Cancellara
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
Andreas Klier (T-Mobile) was in the early break, then in the chase with
Van Petegem, but they had to admit that Ballan and Boonen were the stronger
duo: "I tried to win today, but on the Paterberg, another rider made a
big error, and because of that I couldn't follow," he said, referring
to (but not wishing to name) McEwen's dramatic slowing down while in front
with Klier on his wheel.
"If I wasn't in the early break, then I probably would have been in the
finale. My fitness is as it should be. During the coming week, I'll try
to keep my fitness at this level."
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2006)