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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

90th Ronde van Vlaanderen - PT

Belgium, April 2, 2006

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Tommeke is King of Flanders, again

Boonen beats Hoste in two-up; Hincapie third

By Jeff Jones and Brecht Decaluwé in Ninove

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

With Belgium's King Albert II watching the finish of the 90th Ronde Van Vlaanderen from the tribune in Halsesteenweg, the undeniable king of Belgian cycling, Tom Boonen, powered across the line to beat Leif Hoste in a two man sprint to win the Ronde. Boonen, the outstanding favourite, didn't disappoint his legion of fans today, following Hoste's decisive attack on the Valkenberg with over 30 km to go, then riding another two man time trial to the finish. Hoste was unable to attack the impressive Quick.Step rider, and it was always going to be lopsided sprint.

"Hoste and myself were the strongest men in the race, but I had a better team," Boonen explained (four Quick.Steps made the front group of 18 after the Koppenberg). "We found each other in the finale. His attack showed how strong he was. I asked the team to put me in a good situation at the Muur van Geraardsbergen. So they rode what we call a high pace. In the end, I didn't have to wait on the Muur to get to the front front and take the win."

It's Quick.Step's second successive ProTour classic win after Milan-San Remo, and once again, Boonen and his team held all the cards. But Driedaagse van De Panne winner Leif Hoste did take the initiative and was not afraid of the world champ. "Today I was as strong as Boonen," commented the Discovery rider. "Without shame I can say that. My bad luck was that the wrong man joined me in the escape. In my situation, I couldn't permit myself to let them catch us. He was faster than me, that's how he could win."

"It's already some time that I've been saying that you should attack if you want to win. Men who wait are not right. OK, I didn't win but still...Of course, I thought about winning. That's logical when you're up front with two men and have an advantage of almost two minutes at the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Everybody will ask me why I didn't try to shake him off. I felt on the Muur and the Bosberg that it was impossible. Going into the sprint, I allowed myself to get into a good position. So, during the last two kilometres, I didn't do any work. We were almost standing still, but what can I do?"

George Hincapie (Discovery)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Third place went to another Discovery rider, George Hincapie, who easily won a four man sprint, 1'17 behind the two leaders. Hincapie was frustrated after he crossed the line. "I'm a bit disappointed because we didn't win. Hoste played his card and that's alright. Sadly, my legs felt better than ever but I couldn't show it. In the pursuit, Bettini covered every move the others made. After 260 kilometres, everything is possible. If you look to my sprint, you'll see that I'm a few bike lengths ahead of the others."

With his win in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and fourth place in Milan-San Remo, Tom Boonen is now the new ProTour leader. He will wear a special rainbow striped ProTour jersey in next Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, where he is again the top favourite.

How it unfolded

Brugge's Grote Markt
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

It was raining lightly at the start in Brugge's Grote Markt, but it didn't stop a massive crowd turning out with their umbrellas to see the riders sign on. They had to wait a while, because none of the riders were in a hurry to get wet. The 199 starters left the square a little late, as a result, and began the long battle against the elements and the parcours that is the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

The first two hours were nervous, as the riders fought to stay out of the wind and avoid crashes. As expected, there were a few casualties along the way, with Nico Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques) being one of the first to crash, then puncturing later on, and Michael Barry (Discovery) crashing and abandoning. After 41 km were covered in the first hour, Skil-Shimano's Tomoya Kano and Christoph Meschenmoser abandoned, starting the long list of "did not finishers", while Frank Vandenbroucke (Unibet.com) was put in difficulty by the wind.

The rain stopped before midday, as was forecast, and the sudden sunshine started to dry the roads. There was a lot of pre-race concern about the Koppenberg, and whether it would be passable today. But after a lot of the mud was cleaned off overnight, it became a matter of how wet it would be. It was expected to be a key point in the race.

Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Surprisingly, it took until km 93 for the first breakaway of the day to form. Six riders: Thierry Marichal (Cofidis), Ludovic Auger (FdJeux), Michael Albasini (Liquigas), Bram Schmitz (T-Mobile), David Boucher (Unibet) and Rik Reinerink (Skil) managed to get a gap after Kortrijk, and after a short chase by the peloton, they were allowed to go. After 125 km, they had 4'40, but didn't get much more than this. In the meantime, a big crash took down 15 riders, with Wim de Vocht (Davitamon-Lotto) being taken to hospital. The speed had picked up, thanks to the tailwind, and the average was 43 km/h after three hours.

En route to the first climb, the Molenberg, and Peter Van Petegem punctured twice. But he was able to return to the front before the climb, where Tom Boonen led the way through another mass of fans. Up front, Boucher and Reinerink dropped out of the lead group, leaving four in front on the cobbles at Mater-Kerkgate (km 150) with a sub four-minute gap. Discovery and Gerolsteiner were working in the peloton.

The bunch eased up a little through Oudenaarde, allowing the four leaders to reach 4'45 again, before the inevitable upping of tempo started. The road to Kluisbergen is wide, but the racing is always nervous with the Kwaremont looming. Roger Hammond (Discovery) crashed and injured his knee, and he was out of the race.

Marichal and Schmitz
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

In front, Schmitz and Marichal dropped Auger and Albasini on the Kwaremont as they struggled to maintain their lead. Paolo Bettini started the selection happening in the bunch, stringing the peloton out over the 2.2 km cobbled berg. The pace continued on the Paterberg, with Quick.Step in particular keeping the speed high. Then it was full gas with the tailwind to the Koppenberg (km 185), the hardest climb of the race.

Boonen was piloted to the foot of the climb in front, and he flew up it, gapping everyone and passing the suffering Auger like he was standing still near the top. Behind, Bettini (Quick.Step), Klier (T-Mobile), Van Petegem (Davitamon), Cancellara (CSC), Hincapie (Discovery) and Petito (Tenax) chased and closed the gap, with Ballan (Lampre-Fondital), Hoste (Discovery), Kroon (CSC), Ventoso (Saunier Duval) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) the next group to make contact. The next group all walked up: Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Zabel (Milram) and Quick.Step's Pozzato and Baguet, who were chasing at 30 seconds over the top. As feared, most of the peloton ended up running up the Koppenberg, losing crucial time.

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The two remaining leaders, Schmitz and Albasini, were caught after 195 km, with the chase groups coming together to form an 18 man lead group: Boonen, Bettini, Baguet, Pozzato (Quick.Step), Van Petegem (Davitamon), Klier, Schmitz (T-Mobile), Cancellara, Kroon (CSC), Hincapie, Hoste (Discovery), Petito (Tenax), Ballan (Lampre), Flecha (Rabobank), Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Zabel (Milram), Ventoso (Saunier Duval) and Marichal (Cofidis). Sergei Ivanov (T-Mobile) was chasing alone, after being one of those unlucky enough to have had to walk up the Koppenberg. He got some help from the dropped Schmitz on the Boigneberg (km 201), but couldn't quite close the gap to the lead group, and let them go, frustratingly.

With Pozzato and Baguet now riding tempo for Boonen, the group began to thin down further. Ventoso and Marichal were dropped by Foreest, and Baguet eventually finished his work on the Leberg (km 216). There were five more climbs, and Quick.Step had the upper hand, giving the others a free ride for a while as they protected Boonen.

The final key moment of the race came on the Valkenberg (km 226), when Hoste put in a serious attack and was marked by a vigilant Boonen. Karsten Kroon tried bravely to close the gap, but had to give up when he was just off the wheels of the lead pair. "I got as close as ten metres, but then Boonen took over from Hoste," Kroon told Cyclingnews. "I wanted to react earlier, but I was trapped between other riders. I was just too late; otherwise I would at least have a podium place in a race that was extremely hard."

Then on the descent back into Brakel, Bettini played a perfect spoiler role in the chase group to allow Boonen and Hoste more time, and they did not hang around, riding at 75 km/h on the way to the Tenbossestraat, gaining 40 seconds.

Hoste and Boonen
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

It became apparent that none of the chasers had the strength to catch the two leaders, and it was going to be a battle for third place. The chase group whittled down to Bettini (Quick.Step), Van Petegem (Davitamon), Klier (T-Mobile), Cancellara, Kroon (CSC), Hincapie (Discovery) and Ballan (Lampre) as Boonen and Hoste sped towards the Muur van Geraardsbergen with the wind blowing them further away.

Both leading riders were strong today, and neither tried to take an advantage on the Muur, or the Bosberg that followed. Boonen did more of the work on the climbs, while Hoste pedaled a lower gear and looked comfortable. Hoste was on a good day, but he needed to be on a brilliant one to get away from the world champion. He wasn't.

The gap grew to 1'40 as the chasers were powerless now. On the run into Ninove, Hincapie, Van Petegem, Ballan and Cancellara were able to get away to contest the third place, but all eyes were now on the pair in front. The kilometres ticked down rapidly as they continued their 55-60 km/h pace towards the finish.

George Hincapie (Discovery)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Only when Boonen approached the 1 km to go banned in the lead, did he slow down and try to get Hoste to come through. He said to Hoste that he would not lead out the sprint from the front, and would stop if necessary. But the Discovery rider smartly stayed behind, waiting until they turned the corner with 450m to go before thinking about his move. Unfortunately, Hoste's surprise jump was not enough to put the world champ in difficulty, and Boonen wasted little time in reacting and coming past Hoste with 200m to go to take an expected, but still another impressive victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. George Hincapie put another Discovery rider on the podium by winning the sprint for third from Van Petegem, and Ballan and Cance rounded out the top six.

So ended another edition of Vlaanderen's mooiste: more difficult than in recent years, where the weather hasn't played as much of a factor, but with the same result.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Luc Claessen/www.ctm-images.com

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti

Images by Peter Bentley

Results - 259 km

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic                         6.24.26 (40.423 km/h)
2 Leif Hoste (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                   
3 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team          1.17
4 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                               
5 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                               
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC                                      
7 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                         1.50
8 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team CSC                                          
9 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                     
10 Roberto Petito (Ita) Team Tenax Salmilano                            
11 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                     3.29
12 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Rabobank                          
13 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                      4.21
14 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                                   
15 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Française Des Jeux                          8.03
16 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                        
17 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic                              
18 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                
19 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                 
20 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC                                     
21 Baden Cooke (Aus) Unibet.Com                                         
22 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                           
23 Bert Roesems (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                                   
24 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team              
25 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) T-Mobile Team                                   
26 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone                
27 Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Spa) Rabobank                              8.45
28 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française Des Jeux                            
29 Markus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner                                      
30 Matthew Wilson (Aus) Unibet.Com                                      
31 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic                       
32 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas                                          
33 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems                          
34 Allan Johansen (Den) Team CSC                                        
35 Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram                                    
36 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone             
37 Grégory Rast (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems                            
38 Constantin Zaballa Gutierrez (Spa) Caisse D'epargne-Illes Balears    
39 Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Caisse D'epargne-Illes Balears             
40 Thierry Marichal (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone              
41 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Team Tenax Salmilano                        12.27
42 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                                 
43 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                 
44 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Credit Agricole                              
45 Marco Serpellini (Ita) Unibet.Com                                    
46 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                   
47 Marco Velo (Ita) Team Milram                                         
48 Niko Eeckhout (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen            
49 Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Team Tenax Salmilano                             
50 Andy Flickinger (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                               
51 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Phonak Hearing Systems                          
52 José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Spa) Caisse D'epargne-Illes Balears      
53 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                                 
54 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Credit Agricole                                 
55 Wim Vansevenant (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                                
56 Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                                 
57 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner                                     
58 Frederik Willems (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen         
59 Marc Wauters (Bel) Rabobank                                          
60 Serge Baguet (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic                             
61 Frank Hoj (Den) Gerolsteiner                                         
62 Sven Renders (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago                      15.54
63 De Kort (Ned) Koen Liberty Seguros-Würth Team                        
64 Angel Castresana Del Val (Spa) Unibet.Com                       16.21
65 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Credit Agricole                                   
66 Luke Roberts (Aus) Team CSC                                          
67 Henk Vogels (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                                    
68 Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Skil-Shimano                                
69 Ludovic Auger (Fra) Française Des Jeux                               
70 Ralf Grabsch (Ger) Team Milram                                       
71 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone                  
72 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                 
73 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team          
74 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank                                        
75 Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Team Tenax Salmilano                       
76 Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone              
77 Alexandre Moos (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems                          
78 Jan Boven (Ned) Rabobank                                             
79 Yannick Talabardon (Fra) Credit Agricole                             
80 Koen Barbe (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen          18.58
81 Marco Milesi (Ita) Liquigas                                          
82 Erki Pütsep (Est) Ag2R Prevoyance                               19.16
83 Kurt Hovelynck (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen           
84 Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                       
85 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team              
86 Ruslan Pidgornyy (Ukr) Team Tenax Salmilano                          
87 Enrico Poitschke (Ger) Team Milram                                   
88 Alessandro Cortinovis (Ita) Team Milram                              
89 Franck Renier (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                 
90 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank                                         
91 Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) Française Des Jeux                         
92 Maarten Den Bakker (Ned) Team Milram                                 
93 Renaud Dion (Fra) Ag2R Prevoyance                                    
94 Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                              
95 Joseba Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                       
96 Maarten Wynants (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen          
97 Johan Coenen (Bel) Unibet.Com                                        
98 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2R Prevoyance                                    
99 Christophe Mengin (Fra) Française Des Jeux                           
100 Paolo Fornaciari (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                              
101 Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen      
102 Stefano Zanini (Ita) Liquigas                                       
Starters: 199
Classified: 102

ProTour standings

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic                              89 pts
2 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                             70
3 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                           52
4 Thomas Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                        51
5 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                         50
6 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Team Milram                               47
7 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team            45
8 Francisco Javier Vila Errandonea (Spa) Lampre-Fondital              43
9 Leif Hoste (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                 42
10 Jörg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team                      40
11 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas                                        35
12 Antonio Colom Mas (Spa) Caisse D'epargne-Illes Balears             35
13 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                    31
14 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                            30
15 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team          30
16 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                            26
17 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                       25
18 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank                                     25
19 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank                                  24
20 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC                                   23
21 Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone        23
22 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                          21
23 José Azevedo (Por) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team              20
24 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank                                         15
25 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas                                    15
26 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC                                          15
27 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team CSC                                       15
28 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Credit Agricole                            10
29 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team                        6
30 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                   5
31 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems                         5
32 José Luis Rubiera Vigil (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team    5
33 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team                  5
34 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                        4
35 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                                  4
36 Markus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner                                     3
37 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Caisse D'epargne-Illes Balears       3
38 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC                                         3
39 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                                2
40 Thomas Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team           2
41 Christopher Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto                            2
42 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank                                       2
43 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone             2
44 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir                           2
45 Robbie Mcewen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                                 2
46 Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Lampre-Fondital                                 2
47 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                1
48 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                                1
49 Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir           1
50 Bradley Mcgee (Aus) Française Des Jeux                              1
51 Sandy Casar (Fra) Française Des Jeux                                1
52 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team           1

1 Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                                  71 pts
2 Gerolsteiner                                                        59
3 Team CSC                                                            55
4 Phonak Hearing Systems                                              55
5 Lampre-Fondital                                                     51
6 Rabobank                                                            51
7 Quick Step-Innergetic                                               49
8 Liberty Seguros-Würth Team                                          41
9 Davitamon-Lotto                                                     41
10 Credit Agricole                                                    39
11 T-Mobile Team                                                      35
12 Caisse D'epargne-Illes Balears                                     34
13 Team Milram                                                        31
14 Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone                                   31
15 Française Des Jeux                                                 30
16 Euskaltel-Euskadi                                                  28
17 Saunier Duval-Prodir                                               23
18 Liquigas                                                           19
19 Bouygues Telecom                                                   18
20 Ag2R Prevoyance                                                    12
1 Italy                                                              232 pts
2 Belgium                                                            161
3 Spain                                                              138
4 Netherlands                                                        108
5 United States Of America                                           104
6 Germany                                                             50
7 Switzerland                                                         31
8 Luxembourg                                                          25
9 Portugal                                                            20
10 Australia                                                           9
11 Kazakhstan                                                          5
12 France                                                              4
13 Norway                                                              4
14 Russian Federation                                                  2