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66th Gent-Wevelgem - 1.HC
Belgium, April 7, 2004
Quick.Step drives the Boonen bus to victory
By Jeff Jones
Although top favourite Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Davitamon) told Cyclingnews shortly before the start of the 66th Gent-Wevelgem that he wasn't interested in revenge for Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen, he was certainly motivated by his near miss in last year's race, where he finished third behind Andreas Klier and Henk Vogels in a three man sprint. One year on, and the 23 year old Boonen was so strong today that he came back from two punctures to convincingly win Gent-Wevelgem in a medium sized group sprint.
Boonen credited his victory to his mental state at the start today compared to last year. "Then succumbed to the stress, this year I came with a better head to the start," he hold Canvas TV after his win. He also had to come back from two punctures in the last 60 km - never an easy task in this race. "I had two punctures, so thanks to Kevin Hulsmans and Nick Nuyens who gave me their wheels. The others in the team were unbelievable."
With six Quick.Step-Davitamon riders in the final 25 man selection, it was always going to be a mass sprint, and Boonen had Johan Museeuw to lead him out, although the Lion of Flanders found himself at the front with 2 km to go. "He sat too soon on the front, but I could take the wheel of Backstedt. With 200 metres to the finish I passed him," explained Boonen, who won by over a bike length from Backstedt (Alessio-Bianchi) and Kirsipuu (Ag2r).
Boonen will now concentrate on Paris-Roubaix on Sunday and the Scheldeprijs next Wednesday, before he takes a well earned break for the spring. Then he hopes to build up again for the Tour de France.
How it unfolded
The wind wasn't as strong as predicted but it was certainly strong enough to make life miserable for the peloton as it headed out towards the coast of West Flanders. Combined with this were the frequent rain showers (with occasional hail) and temperatures that barely climbed above 10 degrees. It was only really in the last 10 km that the sun came out and started to dry up the roads.
All eyes were on Boonen and Quick.Step at the start, but there were plenty of other favourites such as last year's winner Andreas Klier (T-Mobile), Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r), Leon van Bon (Lotto-Domo) and George Hincapie (US Postal). The latter's directeur sportif Dirk Demol said that his team's aims were not focused on this race. "If we have a chance today then we'll take it," said Demol. "But we are more looking at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. George [Hincapie] will be our leader normally, and Max van Heeswijk is going well again."
After holding a minute's silence for the recently departed Belgian cycling legend Briek Schotte at the start in Deinze, the 186 riders set off for the west coast of Flanders. Dutchman Julien Smink (BankGiroLoterij) was the first to get a serious gap, and he extended it out to six minutes before being hauled in by the peloton along the coast.
After that it was a race of attrition as the terrible weather tore the peloton apart, leaving a group of around 60 riders in front with 90 km to go. Attacks were plentiful, but the hard riding peloton would not let many riders get a gap for long before the race entered the critical hill zone around Westouter and Kemmel. On the Rodeberg with 70 km to go, Magnus Backstedt (Alessio), Jo Planckaert (MrBookmaker), Peter Farazijn (Cofidis) and Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step) created a small gap which was to be the beginning of the decisive selection.
The first of Tom Boonen's mishaps happened with 65 km to go, after he was tangled up in a crash and punctured. Fortunately his teammate Kevin Hulsmans was on hand to give him a wheel, and Boonen was on his way again back to the peloton. But there were now 18 riders in the front group, including danger men like Hincapie, Hammond and Kirsipuu, and Boonen had to ride hard to bridge up to them before the first climb of the Kemmelberg.
Boonen seemed to manage this with ease, and crossed the top of the slippery, cobbled climb in the top 10. The regrouped peloton split again on the descent, with 24 riders establishing themselves in front. Defending champion Klier (T-Mobile) was there, along with Forster, Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner), Steegmans (Lotto-Domo), Bodrogi, Boonen, Cretskens, Knaven, Museeuw, Nuyens (all Quick.Step), Hammond (MrBookmaker), Vaitkus, Bernucci (Landbouwkrediet), Cancellara, Flecha (Fassa), Backstedt (Alessio), Goussev, Hoj, Hoffman (CSC), Hincapie (USPS), Casper, Farazijn (Cofidis), Kirsipuu (Ag2r) and Rosseler (Bodysol).
The descent of the Kemmelberg claimed at least one victim: Mathew Hayman (Rabobank) who crashed hard on the wet cobbles and had to be taken to hospital in Ieper for examination. His team didn't have a great day either, as no-one made the final selection.
With 50 km to go, Nico Mattan (Bodysol) realised that the second group wasn't going to close the 30 second gap, and set off in pursuit of the leaders, which were being driven along by the high speed six man Quick.Step train. Mattan got to within 15 seconds before he started to die, but persisted over the Kemmelberg and was rewarded with the company of Jimmy Casper (Cofidis), who was dropped the second time up the fearsome climb, and Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step), who also had to give his wheel to Tom Boonen when he punctured with 30 km to go. Together, the three made it back to the lead group.
That was the race, and with Quick.Step riding at 50-55 km/h on the front on the run into Wevelgem, there was no-one with the legs to attack and the race was destined to come down to a bunch sprint. Mattan did try with 2 km to go, but was immediately caught by Museeuw, who then had the unenvious task of leading Boonen to the finish.
Both Boonen and Museeuw realised it was too early, and Johan eased off with
1 km to go to allow others to start the sprint. Magnus Backstedt hit the front
from a long way out with Boonen right on his wheel, and with 200m to go, the
Belgian blasted past the powerful Swede with a huge finishing kick to win comfortably.
Backstedt held onto second, while Kirsipuu finished just in front of an impressive
George Hincapie for third.
Photos from the race
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
Images by AFP Photo
Photos from the start
Images by Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews.com
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon 4.58.47 (41.762 km/h) 2 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Alessio-Bianchi 3 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) AG2r Prévoyance 4 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service presented by Berry Floor 5 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone 6 Roger Hammond (GBr) MrBookmaker.com-Palmans 7 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 8 Vladimir Goussev (Rus) Team CSC 9 Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Relax-Bodysol 10 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile Team 11 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Lotto-Domo 12 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 13 Nico Mattan (Bel) Relax-Bodysol 14 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo 15 Frank Høj (Den) Team CSC 16 Tristan Hoffman (Ned) Team CSC 17 Peter Farazijn (Bel) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone 18 René Haselbacher (Aut) Gerolsteiner 19 Lorenzo Bernucci (Ita) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 20 Johan Museeuw (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon 0.09 21 Servais Knaven (Ned) Quick.Step-Davitamon 22 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon 23 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.14 24 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon 0.21 25 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Quick.Step-Davitamon 0.26 26 Steffen Radochla (Ger) Illes Balears-Banesto 4.38 27 Jörg Ludewig (Ger) Saeco 28 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 29 Chris Peers (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Wincor Nixdorf 30 Stefan Van Dijk (Ned) Lotto-Domo 31 Julian Dean (NZl) Crédit Agricole 32 Remco Van Der Ven (Ned) BankGiroLoterij 33 Mark Scanlon (Irl) AG2r Prévoyance 34 Grégory Rast (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems 35 Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 36 Gabriele Balducci (Ita) Saeco 37 Marc Wauters (Bel) Rabobank 38 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) T-Mobile Team 39 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago 40 Martin Hvastija (Slo) Alessio-Bianchi 41 Paolo Fornaciari (Ita) Saeco 42 Hans De Clercq (Bel) Lotto-Domo 43 Geert Omloop (Bel) MrBookmaker.com-Palmans 44 Robert Hunter (RSA) Rabobank 45 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) MrBookmaker.com-Palmans 46 Jo Planckaert (Bel) MrBookmaker.com-Palmans 47 Daniele Nardello (Ita) T-Mobile Team 48 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Fassa Bortolo 49 Nico Eeckhout (Bel) Lotto-Domo 50 Wim Vansevenant (Bel) Lotto-Domo 51 Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Relax-Bodysol 52 Jans Koerts (Ned) Chocolade Jacques-Wincor Nixdorf 7.23 53 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Crédit Agricole 54 Kristof Trouve (Bel) MrBookmaker.com-Palmans 10.04 55 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 56 Bart Dockx (Bel) Relax-Bodysol