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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

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
(Click for larger image)

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."

Click here for the full report, live report, and photos

Post-race comments

Lefevere happy

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

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 of course."

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
(Click for larger image)

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."

Steegmans lost

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."

Sergeant analyses

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 strong today."

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
(Click for larger image)

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."

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