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50th E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC

Belgium, March 31, 2007

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Boonen follows in the footsteps of Van Looy

Four in-a-row for Belgian super-hero

By Gregor Brown and Brecht Decaluwé in Harelbeke

Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Tom Boonen of Quickstep-Innergetic charged to victory in the 50th E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and won the sprint of four over Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), German Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile), and Italian Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas). The Belgian made history by becoming the first rider to win four times in a row in Harelbeke.

Coming into the finale, the escape was supported by a strong tailwind, while behind, the chase had all but given up and it was left to fight for fifth. Burghardt was the first to have a dig, but it was ineffective. The T-Mobile giant was followed by Quinziato, but Boonen and Cancellara made sure it was going to be a sprint of four.

Approaching the final 500 metres Quinziato kicked again in a desperate bid for victory. Cancellara seized this opportunity to launch his sprint. The Time Trial World Champion's grind to the line was struck by the Boonen lighting bolt. The 2005 World Champion rolled over the line and captured another bit of history for his palmarès.

The win by Boonen salvaged the day for Quick-Step. The Belgian team lost World Champion Paolo Bettini when, in the middle of a powerful attack, his rear derailleur snapped on the Knokteberg.

The leading group of four
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

"This was the toughest of the four," Boonen said about his fourth consecutive win. "I didn't dare to think about those statistics as I thought I was unable to react on multiple attacks but apparently they were dead tired as well," the former world champion explained. "During the finale I suffered from cramps, something which doesn't happening to me that often. Coming over the finish line I wanted to raise my arms but a cramp got into my hand. Probably I haven't been drinking enough.

"I wasn't confident for the sprint because I knew it would be hard to finish it but the [tail]-wind was in my favour as nobody could get away. Luckily Burghardt was there as well, he reacted nervously on everybody who moved. Besides that I have to admit that the young German was unbelievably strong on the hills," Boonen continued.

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

The former World Champion will be the man to beat next week in the Tour of Flanders and Boonen realizes this very well. "The E3 Prijs doesn't keep any secrets; if you're good here, you're good in the Tour of Flanders as well."

Fabian Cancellara had to admit that Boonen was virtually unbeatable in the E3 Prijs Harelbeke although he believed in his chances against Boonen in the sprint. "Sprint is a lottery," the Swiss said to Cyclingnews.

The Time Trial World Champion was expected to launch an attack during the final kilometres but he waited for the sprint. "I wanted to play my cards in a sprint because I noticed Boonen wasn't pedalling like normal, we've known each other since 1998 so you can see if something's different.

"I suffered from cramps – I hear Boonen suffered cramps as well – which is no wonder after I had done my time trial [to bridge] and after I helped O'Grady to get back in the front group," Cancellara continued.

Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

The Swiss power-house was happy with his performance as he was unsure about his form. "This feels like a victory to me even though I didn't win. I waited for O'Grady as we knew he was in great shape; I was ill in the Tirreno-Adriatico," Cancellara explained. In the sprint he was close – not close enough though – to beat the Belgian sprinter. "I think I did a good sprint. Scott Sunderland told me this morning that the finish is just behind the corner so I should start early enough which I did."

The hottest prospect in the front group was Marcus Burghardt; the German was extremely powerful in the sprints on the Flemish cobbled hills. Burghardt tried to avoid a sprint in the final kilometre but he ended up leading out the sprint. "That was a bad position to hit the sprint so I was without a chance.

"Actually it was only during the final kilometres that I started thinking about a possible win," Burghardt said to Cyclingnews. "Last year I was almost out of the team after being injured and now I'm doing this. I often dreamed of following Boonen in these races and now I'm doing so," Burghardt realized he showed an exceptional performance.

How it unfolded

Paolo Bettini (QuickStep)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

194 riders got away for the 50th edition of the E3-Prijs Harelbeke, a race often referred to as a mini version of the Tour of Flanders. The peloton had to overcome twelve of the typical Flemish 'bergen,' the tiny but robust hills which are often covered with cobblestones.

The peloton took an easy start as they averaged only 31.2 km/h during the first ten kilometres, with riders mainly going back to the team car to take off jackets or – like Francis Mourey (FDJeux)– to switch shoes. Rhys Pollock (DFL-Cyclingnews) was the first attacker of the day and his maximum advantage amounted to forty seconds, and after eight kilometres, his attacking adventure was over. From then on, the speed went up with the peloton being strung out. When the first hour was over, (averaging 38 km/h), the peloton decided to take a sanitary stop.

Soon after, Jeremy Venell (DFL-Cyclingnews) jumped away from the peloton and he achieved an advantage of one minute but then the peloton got up to speed, and Venell was brought back. Oscar Freire and Paolo Bettini had a flat tyre on the first cobbled sections, but the favourites were quickly returned forward into the peloton.

The Belgian cycling fanatics
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

After a hundred kilometres, the peloton was still together as nobody was able to set up a successful breakaway. At the feed zone, Steffen Wesemann (Wiesenhof), Enrico Gasparotto (Liquigas), Nico Sijmens (Tönissteiner), Niels Scheuneman (Unibet), and Lars Michaelsen (CSC) abandoned the race; earlier today David Rodriguez (Navigators) abandoned after a crash caused by losing his contact lenses.

A compact peloton hit the first climbs La Houppe, Berg Stene, and the Boigneberg. Marcel Sieberg (Milram) attacked the peloton on the last climb and worked his way to a lead of fifty seconds. As the roads were getting smaller, the peloton at the back looked like an accordion with some riders standing still in the corners. These circumstances resulted in some crashes with Bert Scheirlinckx (Tönissteiner) being the major casualty with what looked like a broken collarbone.

The first major climb of the day was the Eikenberg and we noticed a strong Tom Boonen and Gert Steegmans for Quickstep, while Michael Boogerd was riding easily next to them; meanwhile Stuart O'Grady (CSC) punctured on the hill and grabbed a wheel from teammate Kasper Klostergård. Sieberg was brought back on the Stationsberg with Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) attacking the peloton. Soon after, Philippe Gilbert (FDJeux) and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) joined him in the lead.

Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

On the Eikenberg, Belgian hero Boonen unleashed his force with Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) being the only rider able to follow; Boogerd sat on their wheel but just couldn't follow. Yet Boonen and Burghardt forced their way towards the three leaders while Fabian Cancellara (CSC) tried to bridge up, too, but on his own; it took him much effort but after a couple of hard kilometres in pursuit, he joined the five leaders in what seemed to be the decisive breakaway. So with fifty kilometres to go, there were six leaders: Belgians Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert and Stijn Devolder, Germany's hot prospect Marcus Burghardt, Swiss powerhouse Fabian Cancellara and the surprisingly strong Italian Manuel Quinziato. Behind them Predictor-Lotto and Lampre were forced to take the initiative in a largely reduced peloton.

On the next climb – the Oude Kruiskens – Predictor was blown away while another CSC-rider tried to bridge up to the front on his own in an effort to put the CSC team in a powerful tactical position. O'Grady was unable to close the last metres on the leaders but then Cancellara decided to drop back to help O'Grady. After a short team time trial, they had two men in the lead with Cancellara immediately taking turns again, something we seldom see in the finale of these races.

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

Boonen led the breakaway group on the Paterberg - the short 20% steep lump. O'Grady couldn't follow and dropped back to Oscar Freire (Rabobank) who attacked the peloton together with Paolo Bettini. The world champion forced Freire to work and when they hit the longer cobbled climb of the Oude Kwaremont Bettini jumped away from Freire who was clearly suffering on the cobbles. With thirty kilometres and two asphalt climbs to go, Freire dropped back into a group of six on fifteen seconds with Dutch champion Boogerd, Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Baden Cooke (Unibet), Serguei Ivanov (Astana), Allan Johansen (CSC) and Roy Sentjens (Predictor-Lotto) while Bettini and O'Grady joined the six leaders.

On the Knokteberg, the world champion attacked being followed by Burghardt, Boonen, Cancellara, and Quinziato. Mechanical troubles arose again for Quickstep as Bettini's rear derailleur broke when Burghardt took over the initiative. The four leaders quickly managed a gap of thirty seconds on the group of ten behind them. On the Tiegemberg, Boonen looked ready to initiate attacks for he was clearly the fastest man in this group. However nobody attacked on the ultimate climb. With ten kilometres remaining, the four leaders were fighting wind from the side and also the group including Freire which was trailing at 33 seconds; Boonen was often seen standing on the pedals to stretch his painful back.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

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

Images by DCP/Bert Geerts

Images by Gregor Brown/Cyclingnews


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com

Results - 203 km

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                   4.55.36 (41,204 km/h)
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC                               
3 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) T-Mobile                                
4 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas                                
5 Allan Johansen (Den) Team CSC                              0.42
6 Roy Sentjens (Bel) Predictor-Lotto                         0.46
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Française Des Jeux                      
8 Baden Cooke (Aus) Unibet.com                                   
9 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                                  
10 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                       
11 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Astana                                   
12 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank                                   
13 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel                        
14 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank                            0.56
15 Murilo Fischer (Bra) Liquigas                             2.25
16 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis                               
17 Simone Masciarelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo         
18 Arnaud Coyot (Fra) Unibet.com                                 
19 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Ag2r Prévoyance                          
20 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner              
21 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                  
22 Andy Cappelle (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner              
23 Roberto Petito (Ita) Liquigas                                 
24 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quickstep-Innergetic                      
25 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner                             4.22
26 Roger Hammond (GBr) T-Mobile                                  
27 Michael Schär (Swi) Astana                                    
28 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Astana                                 
29 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram                                       
30 Igor Abakoumov (Bel) Astana                                   
31 Gabriele Balducci (Ita) Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo          
32 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Discovery Channel                         
33 Renaud Dion (Fra) Ag2r Prévoyance                             
34 Nikolas Maes (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen      
35 Luke Roberts (Aus) Team CSC                                   
36 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                           
37 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Unibet.com                                 
38 Maarten Den Bakker (Ned) Skil-Shimano                         
39 Bert Roesems (Bel) Predictor-Lotto                            
40 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Discovery Channel                       
41 Leon Van Bon (Ned) Rabobank                                   
42 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française Des Jeux                     
43 Steve Cummings (GBr) Discovery Channel                        
44 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                         
45 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Quickstep-Innergetic                    
46 Leif Hoste (Bel) Predictor-Lotto                          4.27
47 Wim Vansevenant (Bel) Predictor-Lotto                     6.42
48 Wim De Vocht (Bel) Predictor-Lotto                            
49 Gerben Löwik (Ned) Rabobank                                   
50 Daniel Lloyd (GBr) DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed                  
51 Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                     
52 Sven Krauss (Ger) Gerolsteiner                           11.42
53 Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Discovery Channel                        
54 Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil-Shimano                           
55 Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Gerolsteiner                            
56 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Milram                                    
57 Marco Cavallari (Ita) Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo            
58 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Crédit Agricole                          
59 Jörg Ludewig (Ger) Wiesenhof-Felt                             
60 Bas Giling (Ned) Wiesenhof-Felt                               
61 Stefan Van Dijck (Ned) Wiesenhof-Felt                         
62 Kurt Hovelynck (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen    
63 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Skil-Shimano                            
64 Jan Kuyckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner                 
65 Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner           
66 Vytautas Kaupas (Ltu) Jartazi Promo Fashion                   
67 Thomas Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner                              
68 Rony Martias (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                           
69 Franck Renier (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                          
70 Ludovic Auger (Fra) Française Des Jeux                        
71 Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Skil-Shimano                         
72 Bert Grabsch (Ger) T-Mobile                                   
73 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) T-Mobile                                 
74 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner                             
75 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Team CSC                              
76 Felix Odebrecht (Ger) Wiesenhof-Felt                          
77 Matti Breschel (Den) Team CSC                                 
78 Massimiliano Mori (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                       
79 Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                          
80 Martin Müller (Swi) Milram                                    
81 Enrico Poitschke (Ger) Milram                                 
82 Jérôme Vincent (Fra)                                          
83 Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Milram                                   
84 Matthew Wilson (Aus) Unibet.com                               
85 Artur Gajek (Ger) Wiesenhof-Felt                              
86 Hilton Clarke (Aus) Navigators Insurance                      
87 Nico Mattan (Bel) DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed                   
88 Frédéric Amorison (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner          
89 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Predictor-Lotto                       
90 William Bonnet (Fra) Crédit Agricole                          
91 Koen De Kort (Ned) Astana                                     
92 Pedro Horrillo (Spa) Rabobank                                 
93 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Crédit Agricole                       
94 Benoît Joachim (Lux) Astana                                   
95 Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus) Astana                               
96 Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                           
97 Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis                                
98 Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Crédit Agricole                         
99 Kevin Van Impe (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                     
Starters 194