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94th Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC

Schoten, Belgium, April 12, 2006

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Hometown win for hometown hero

World champion finishes Spring Classics campaign on a high

By Anthony Tan in Schoten

A comfortable victory
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Tom Boonen couldn't have finished off his spring campaign any better today, as the boy from Balen gave exactly what the crowd from Kempen wanted, the world champion's stripes and smile there for all to see as he crossed the line in Schoten with apparent ease and arms aloft to notch his 13th win of the season. The 25 year-old's Quick.Step team was so strong, in fact, that six of his team-mates were also in the break, with Steven de Jongh also taking second ahead of Davitamon-Lotto's Gert Steegmans.

"There was a big crowd cheering, there were lots of girls cheering... " were some of Boonen's first words. "These are my people, my friends, my neighbours - that's why this race has a special place in my heart, because I come from [the region of] Antwerp."

While his second victory of may have looked a certainty, the world champion said it wasn't: "People don't understand; it's hard for them to appreciate it's difficult to win a bike race. That's my major problem: I make it seem easy.

"I think everybody saw me on the podium 100 kilometres before the finish line, so yeah, there was some pressure - I couldn't fail," he told Cyclingnews. "Especially in the last 40 k's when we started to control the final, there was no room for a mistake. But everybody suffered today, even the guys [in the break] who were sitting on all day; there was just enough wind to let everybody suffer enough, and that made it a little easier for us.

The new blue train
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

"Everybody [in the team] felt their legs and they were tired, and they were saying, 'Ah, maybe we should do this...' [change tactics]; I said, 'No, no, just keep riding, you'll see' - and from the moment we took the speed up, nobody passed me at one time. From the moment we turned left and one and a half kilometres to go, I didn't see anybody [else]."

A little more of a surprise was that his team-mate was also unsurpassed in the sprint: "I just started the sprint and Tom [Boonen] passed me; that's all I know," De Jongh said.

Asked when did the idea arose to smash the peloton to pieces so early on, the Dutchman said: "Sitting in the team bus driving to the start, we saw that there was a lot of wind. Then we decided to do it right from the start. That's the way we did it in Qatar and that's the way we end our first part of the season today."

So was this a revenge of sorts for the team's performance in Paris-Roubaix? "Sunday, it was sad that Pozzato wasn't there in the front group; that was a small deception for our team." And like Boonen, De Jongh stated he too needs to pack for his holiday in Tenerife.

Third-placed Steegmans said his result wasn't bad, considering he was the only rider represented from Davitamon-Lotto: "We had five men in the group, but then just before Wuustwezel, Quick.Step had another go in the crosswinds. Leon Van Bon was still in the group but he punctured.

The podium
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

"When the team car came to ask how I felt, I said that I wasn't feeling good. In the background, the team tried to close the gap but they failed in succeeding."

The young Belgian grabbed some sprint victories in Algarve, so he is known to be fast - but he is also known to fear the chaos that typifies bunch gallops: "Keeping the wheel of Boonen was hard," Steegmans said. "I tried to give some knock around, but suddenly I noticed that Cooke and I were playing a dangerous game. I dropped some positions and decided to start the sprint from the back, still got third though."

The situation Boonen and his team found themselves in was the complete opposite of three days ago, where he found himself isolated after the Forest of Arenberg, and while it may be wishful thinking, he said to Cyclingnews the thought of having the same situation in Paris-Roubaix hadn't crossed his mind.

"Ya, but different race... Last night, we looked at the weather forecast and it said the wind was going to be like this. I think there's like six guys who live in this region, so everybody knows the roads - we already knew what was going to happen before it even happened, and that made us so strong today, plus we a team of specialists for this kind of racing."

How it unfolded

The start of the 94th Scheldeprijs
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

Situated a stone's throw from the banks of the Schelde river, riders left Antwerp's Grote Markt a quarter past eleven this morning. For this mid-week Spring Classic that slots in between the cobbles of last weekend's Paris-Roubaix and the short, steep hills of the Amstel Gold this Sunday, the good weather continued to the Belgian crowd's delight, with temps around 10 degrees C and a bit of a breeze blowing in from the west.

Based on the race's history, pundits were expecting today to be a sprinters' delight, and an English-speaking one at that with no less than four top Aussies - Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto and winner in 2002), Graeme Brown (Rabobank), Baden Cooke (Unibet.com), Hilton Clarke (Navigators Insurance) - and former British road champion Jeremy Hunt (Unibet.com) all vying for line honours in Schoten's Churchilllaan, where the race was to finish exactly 200 kilometres down the track. Of course, it would difficult (actually, downright rude) to forget the name of Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic), riding his last race in his home region of Kempen before taking his first season break from racing.

However, as last year's race showed, things don't always go to plan. In 2005, eventual winner Thorwald Veneberg jumped clear with Lithuanian Tomas Vaitkus after 57 kilometres, never to be seen again - and it took just one third of that distance before the same thing happened today.

The 23 man break
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Just after the town of Brecht, a large group of riders made what would turn out to be the winning move: Tom Boonen, Wouter Weylandt, Kevin Hulsmans, Steven de Jongh, Geert Verheyen, Servais Knaven, Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step), Luis Pasamontes, Jeremy Hunt and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com), Graeme Brown, Jan Boven, Mathew Hayman (Rabobank), Enrico Gasparotto (Liquigas), Evert Verbist, Niko Eeckhout, Frederik Willems, Kurt Hovelynck, Jens Renders (all Chocolade Jacques), Gert Steegmans (Davitamon-Lotto), David Verheyen (Landbouwkrediet), Massimiliano Mori, Stephan Cohnen (Naturino), René Weissinger, Aart Vierhouten (Skil Shimano). With eight teams represented including 2004 champ Boonen and nearly all the Quick.Step team, who everyone was waiting to see what they would do, the peloton gave up on any sort of chase almost immediately.

As the bunch morphed into a large gruppetto, the leaders' advantage had ballooned and by the time they hit the first of three 17km finishing circuits in Schoten, the gap was 9'11 with 48 kilometres to go. That margin meant every member of the lead group had a one in twenty-three chance of victory and a shot at 6,940 Euro - not too shabby for a half-day in the office!

Stefan Cohnen (Naturino-Sapore di Mare)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Unfortunately for Unibet.com, just as the lead group was coming into the penultimate lap, a loose rear brake caliper for Jeremy Hunt forced him to stop, but for the former British champion, it luckily happened when the break was cruising, and he quickly rejoined. With the gap a gi-normous 12'14 with two laps to go, it was hardly surprising to see this lull. In fact, as six Quick.Step men patrolled the break, a cyclo-tourist dressed to the nines in full Discovery Channel gear managed to keep up with this group for more than half a kilometre. And no, it wasn't Lance.

Equally unsurprising were a few lone attacks shortly after this brief comedy of sorts. Naturino-Sapore Di Mare rider Stefan Cohnen's move off the front turned out to be the most promising, attacking 22 kilometres out and gaining a maximum 31 seconds with 20km to go. The Dutchman bravely rode on his own for what seemed an eternity, until Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Unibet.com) bridged then dropped Cohnen six kilometres from Schoten.

That's our boy!
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

However, the Spaniard also succumbed to the force of the Quick.Step train five kilometres from the finish line, and from that moment on, Tom Boonen's victory became a certainty, the new Blue Train going so fast in the last two kilometres that his final lead-out man Steven De Jongh had enough to make a 1-2 victory in front of a roaring hometown crowd. As a result of the peloton's meandering speed, the entire group was taken out as they approached the first of the finishing circuits in Schoten, which explains the fact that there were just 22 finishers.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

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

Images by Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com

Images by Junko & Miwako Sasaki

Pre-race pics

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com

  • The start of the 94th Scheldeprijs was conducted at Antwerp's Grote Markt. The temperature was surprisingly warm for this April day in Belgium - not that we were complaining!
  • Riders at the sign on in Antwerp's Grote Markt.
  • Miss Belgium (C, back) was happy to greet the riders on stage as they signed in. The riders were equally happy to be greeted.
  • The imposing start banner 15 mins before the start, soon to be swamped with cyclists underneath it.
  • Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) is hoping for a bunch sprint today, and is good form after finishing 17th in last Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.
  • David O'Louglin (Navigators Insurance) is hoping his luck does an about turn sometime soon, with his team counting on their sprinters Oleg Grisckine and Hilton Clarke should the race come down to a bunch gallop.
  • And they're off in the 94th Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen. Oh - and there's Tom Boonen over in the far left, riding his last race before taking a well earned break in Tasmania. That last part was a joke.

Results - 200 km

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                   4.31.00 (44.28 km/h)
2 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Quickstep-Innergetic                     
3 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                           
4 Nico Eeckhout (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen      
5 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank                                    
6 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Liquigas                               
7 Jens Renders (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen       
8 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Skil-Shimano                             
9 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Unibet.com                                   
10 René Weissinger (Ger) Skil-Shimano                            
11 Kurt Hovelynck (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen    
12 Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Spa) Unibet.com                    
13 Massimiliano Mori (Ita) Naturino-Sapore di Mare               
14 Baden Cooke (Aus) Unibet.com                                  
15 Evert Verbist (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen     
16 Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                0.02
17 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank                              0.07
18 Stefan Cohnen (Ned) Naturino-Sapore di Mare               0.11
19 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic             0.31
20 Geert Verheyen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                     
21 Servais Knaven (Ned) Quickstep-Innergetic                 0.33
22 Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                     
Starters: 153
Classified: 22