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49th E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - 1.HC

Belgium, March 25, 2006

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Boonen equals Raas

Boonen and Ballan blow the bunch apart

By Jeff Jones in Harelbeke, with additional reporting from Brecht Decaluwé

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."

Boonen's next big appointment is the Ronde van Vlaanderen next Sunday. "I won't be worse than last year, that's for sure. I don't know if I am better. Avoiding the falls will be the most important thing in the coming days. I fell two times [in past races] but I was never hurt."

As to who he rated as the favourites for the Ronde, Boonen replied, "Alessandro Ballan is my pick. He can do everything, sprinting, time-trialing and climbing. He's a mini-version of Boonen. But, more probably, the main protagonists will be a surprise for most of us. From today on, my time of the year has begun. In the races that are behind us, I helped everyone in our team that I could. Winning races didn't interest me really."

The podium after E3:
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Quick.Step team manager Patrick Lefevere was his usual calm but content self when interviewed post-race. "I sent a message to our man in the car that it would be good if Boonen would attack," he said. "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."

On the Paterberg, Boonen was the only Quick.Step rider left in the front group. "That’s right. Though Cretskens was in the attack early on. Van Impe did what he had to do. Bram Tankink needed to give his wheel in 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 next 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 classic 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."

How it unfolded

The start
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
(Click for larger image)

The 49th edition of the E3 Prijs was run in relatively good weather, with dry and windy conditions greeting the riders at the noontime start in Harelbeke's Grote Markt. The peloton - minus Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Fabio Sacchi (Milram) and Ben Johnson (Agritubel) - rolled out for 200 km of tough racing to the tune of 'Land of Hope and Glory'.

After 15 km, a group of 26 riders got clear, including Wilfried Cretskens, Servais Knaven (Quick.Step), Henk Vogels (Davitamon), Fabian Cancellara (CSC), Anthony Geslin, Rony Martias, Alexandre Pichot (Bouygues), Sébastien Minard, Thierry Marichal (Cofidis), Christophe Mengin (Française des Jeux), Marcus Burghardt, Andreas Klier, Stephan Schreck (T-Mobile), David Loosli, Daniele Righi (Lampre), Daniele Colli (Liquigas), Fumiyuki Beppu, Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Discovery), Steven Kleynen (Landbouwkrediet), Jeremy Hunt, Matthew Wilson (Unibet.com), Torsten Schmidt, Lars Wackernagel (Wiesenhof), Marlon Perez and Christian Murro (Tenax), Dmitri Konyshev, Michele Maccanti (LPR).

After 40 km, the group had a minute on a fast riding peloton, which wasn't prepared to give riders such as Klier and Cancellara too much room. 47 km were covered in the first hour, and the pace began to tell in front. Loosli, Righi, Wilson and Minard were dropped, then Beppu crashed on the Paddestraat and abandoned. His compatriot Yukihiro Doi (Skil Shimano) also crashed in the peloton, and was taken to hospital. Rabobank seemed to be having a bad day too, with Marc Wauters, Jukka Vastaranta, Jan Boven and Joost Posthuma all struggling. Only Juan Antonio Flecha seemed to be on top of it.

Tom Boonen flatted just before the Paddestraat (km 66), but was able to rejoin the peloton. Alessandro Petacchi had similar luck, as did Sébastien Hinault, who punctured on the Paddestraat. Unfortunately, when he did, Niko Eeckhout and Franck Renier rode into him. After 70 km, a group of nine countered in pursuit of the 24 leaders: Peter Van Petegem, Robbie McEwen, Gert Steegmans (Davitamon), Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) were all present, but the group came back quickly.

The peloton
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

The gap to the leaders hovered between half a minute and 1'30 as Milram and Gerolsteiner took charge of the chase. La Houppe (km 117) signaled the start of the hill zone, and the racing began to get more intense. The lead group kept shedding riders, and on the Boigneberg (km 130), Van den Broeck, Perez and Burghardt took off as the peloton again came within 30 seconds of closing the gap. It opened out to over a minute as McEwen rode tempo in the bunch, trying to look after Van Petegem and Steegmans. But Boonen was ever present in second or third wheel on the climbs, ready to make his move.

Leif Hoste pushed the pace in the bunch after Stationsberg with 60 km to go, paving the way for a counter by his teammate Stijn Devolder. The Discovery rider bridged up to the shrinking lead group together with Tankink and Ballan just before the Taaienberg - just in time to see Klier attack as he did last year, with Mengin able to follow. Over the top, the pair waited for Devolder, Burghardt, Cretskens, Geslin, Perez and Murro, the only survivors of the early break. The peloton was also shrinking, with Boonen losing teammates while Davitamon-Lotto seemed to have more strength.

Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

On the Oude Kruiskens (km 153), Klier, Burghardt, Geslin and Murro dropped the rest as Boonen upped the tempo behind, taking Hoste, Ballan, Van Petegem and Steegmans with him to catch the others in the break. Finally, with 41 km to go, everything was back together with a very tired group of around 60 riders.

The deciding move of the race came just a couple of kilometres later on the dreaded Paterberg, a 400m cobbled climb averaging 12.5 percent. McEwen got the holeshot at the bottom of the climb, and led Klier and Boonen up the favoured left hand gutter. But with 100m from the top, at the steepest point of the Paterberg, McEwen blew up and Alessandro Ballan and Tom Boonen sprinted past the Davitamon rider, opening up a gap over the rest. The disorganised bunch regrouped after the descent, but not before Ballan and Boonen had snatched half a minute lead.

The front pair hit the Kwaremont and increased their advantage further. Klier and Van Petegem looked strong chasing, but they were too few and had to wait for more riders to join. At 30 km to go, group formed with Van Petegem (Davitamon), Klier, Ivanov (T-Mobile), Hoste and Hammond (Discovery), De Waele (Landbouwkrediet), Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Cooke (Unibet), Flecha (Rabobank), Carrara (Lampre), Zabel (Milram), Ljungqvist, Johansen (CSC), Paolini (Liquigas), Murro and Petito (Tenax), Mourey and Guesdon (FDJ), and Vierhouten (Skil).

Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

The gap was 37 seconds at the bottom of the Knokteberg and nearly a minute at the top as Boonen and Ballan stormed away from the rest. It was going to take a monumental effort to catch them now, and even a problem with Ballan's saddle didn't slow the leaders down much, not with Boonen in charge.

On the Tiegemberg, three riders detached themselves from the chase group: Leif Hoste, Bert de Waele, and Aart Vierhouten. They found it tough going into the cross/headwind, but were able to put enough time into the bunch to at least secure third to fifth places. In front, Ballan and Boonen were trading turns, with the World Champ looking the strongest. Neither attacked the other before the finish, and Ballan found himself in the unenviable position of being in front with 1.5 km to go.

Boonen sat behind the Italian until 300m out, when he jumped so hard that Ballan had absolutely no answer. Another E3 Prijs was in the bag for Tom Boonen, and he celebrated it with a big punch to the air and the massive crowds that were in Harelbeke to see their World Champion win. And not unexpectedly, Aart Vierhouten (who was named in the latest Belgian police raids, but denied all knowledge of them) outsprinted De Waele and Hoste for third place.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

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

Images by Elmar Krings

Images by Michael Gernaa /procycling.dk

Results - 200 km

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                       4.43.38 (42.3 km/h)
2 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                        0.02
3 Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Skil-Shimano                             1.32
4 Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago                        
5 Leif Hoste (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                
6 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Team CSC                               1.42
7 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas                                        
8 Roger Hammond (GBr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team             
9 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                            
10 Baden Cooke (Aus) Unibet.com                                      
11 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                              
12 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                      
13 Allan Johansen (Den) Team CSC                                     
14 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis-Le Crédit par Téléphone           
15 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française des Jeux                         
16 Roberto Petito (Ita) Team Tenax Salmilano                         
17 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                 
18 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank                                
19 Francis Mourey (Fra) Française des Jeux                       1.51
20 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) T-Mobile Team                            2.48
21 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                           3.59
22 Fabio Baldato (Ita) Team Tenax Salmilano                          
23 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                             
24 Markus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner                                   
25 Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Jartazi-7Mobile                           
26 Max Van Heeswijk (Ned) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team         
27 Eduardo Gonzalo Ramirez (Spa) Agritubel                           
28 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) T-Mobile Team                              
29 Christian Murro (Ita) Team Tenax Salmilano                        
30 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                     
31 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                     
32 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team           
33 Bram Tankink (Ned) Quickstep-Innergetic                           
34 Steffen Wesemann (Swi) T-Mobile Team                              
35 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team    
36 Kevin Van Impe (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                         
37 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC                                  
38 Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                              
39 Lorenzo Bernucci (Ita) T-Mobile Team                              
40 James Vanlandschoot (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago             7.06
41 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Crédit Agricole                              
42 Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Skil-Shimano                             
43 Matthé Pronk (Ned) Unibet.com                                     
44 Gilles Canouet (Fra) Agritubel                                    
45 Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic                         
46 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Team Milram                             
47 Aivaras Baranauskas (Ltu) Agritubel                           8.41
48 Evert Verbist (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen         
49 Servais Knaven (Ned) Quickstep-Innergetic                         
50 Marco Velo (Ita) Team Milram                                      
51 Jarno Van Mingeroet (Bel) Jartazi-7Mobile                         
52 Koen Barbé (Bel) Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen            
53 Gerrit Glomser (Aut) Team Volksbank-Vorarlberg                    
54 Maarten Den Bakker (Ned) Team Milram                              
55 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis-Le Crédit par Téléphone             
56 Andy Cappelle (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago                       
57 Thierry Marichal (Bel) Cofidis-Le Crédit par Téléphone            
58 Peter Ronsse (Bel) Jartazi-7Mobile                                
59 Marco Serpellini (Ita) Unibet.com                                 
60 Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis-Le Crédit par Téléphone            
61 Jean-Paul Simon (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago                     
62 Matthew Wilson (Aus) Unibet.com                                   
63 David McPartland (Aus) Team Tenax Salmilano                       
64 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Française des Jeux                           
65 Marlon Alirio Perez Arango (Col) Team Tenax Salmilano             
66 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner                                  
67 Steven De Jongh (Ned) Quickstep-Innergetic                        
68 Michael Albasini (Swi) Liquigas                                   
69 Ludovic Auger (Fra) Française des Jeux                            
70 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Bouygues Telecom                     
71 Andy Flickinger (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                            
72 Franck Renier (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                              
73 Wim Vansevenant (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                             
74 Frank Hoj (Den) Gerolsteiner                                      
75 Dmitri Konyshev (Rus) Team LPR                                    
76 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quickstep-Innergetic                         
77 Michele Maccanti (Ita) Team LPR                                   
78 Wim De Vocht (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                                
79 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                              
80 Nico Mattan (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                                 
81 Claudio Corioni (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                             
82 Paolo Fornaciari (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                            
83 Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team       
84 Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) AG2R Prévoyance                               
85 Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                               
86 Steven Kleynen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago                      
87 Stephan Schreck (Ger) T-Mobile Team                               
88 Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukr) Team LPR                                  
89 Cédric Coutouly (Fra) Agritubel                                   
90 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Unibet.com                                      
Starters: 191
Classified: 90