Hammond and Barry crash out
Proving once again that he thrives under pressure, Belgian superstar Tom Boonen shouldered the hopes of Belgium’s cycling fans and delivered a win for the home team. With the world champion’s rainbow stripes wrapped around his chest, and a real live rainbow arching in the sky overhead, Boonen beat the odds on Sunday to become the first man to win the Tour of Flanders two times in a row since Eric Leman did it in 1972 and ’73.
If that sort of splendor wasn’t enough to get the yellow, lion-emblazoned Flanders flags flying — and the countless roadside plastic cups of beer tipping — Boonen’s next rainbow trick likely did: The 25-year-old was the first man to win Flanders while wearing the world champion’s jersey since his legendary compatriot Eddy Merckx did so in 1975.
After outsprinting breakaway partner Leif Hoste (Discovery Channel) at the end of the 258km race across the hilly, tattered farm roads of northern Belgium, Boonen said it felt good to live up to the expectations.
“The thing is,” Boonen said, “it’s nice to win a race like this when you’re the one big favorite and you go in a moment when everybody’s expecting you.”
Scroll down for Graham Watson’s photos
Boonen made his move when there were 33 kilometers and three of 17 ranked climbs left in the 258km race between Bruges and Ninove. He followed the attack of Hoste, a Belgian who also finished second here in 2004, and the two built a quick, decisive lead. It was also a somewhat unexpected lead, considering the gravity of such a move and the players still behind them. Boonen and Hoste’s advantage grew to over a minute, and, trading pulls in the blustery wind, they held their advantage over a small group of frontrunners until the finish.
After flying over the final three climbs — the paved Tenbosse, the fearsome and steep Mur de Grammont (known as the Muur-Kappelmuur in the language of the Flemish faithful) and the crowd-choked Bosberg — Boonen easily came around Hoste, who launched a desperate attempt at a sprint 400 meters from the finish. With the win, Boonen also took over the ProTour leader’s jersey, and will therefore go into next week’s attempt at a double-double — two straight Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix sweeps — as the ProTour leader.
One minute and 17 seconds behind Boonen and Hoste, American George Hincapie won a five-man sprint, beating 2003 Tour of Flanders champion Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto), Italian Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) and Swiss Fabian Cancellara (CSC) to finish third and land his first-ever podium finish at Flanders, one of the cobbled classics he yearns to win. With Hoste and Hincapie in second and third, it was an impressive day for Discovery Channel, but also a bittersweet one for Hincapie.
“My legs were great today,” Hincapie said after the finish. “Probably better than ever. And I wasn’t really able to show that.”
Parting of the clouds
The 90th Tour of Flanders, which started Sunday morning (a few minutes late) in historic downtown Bruges for the ninth consecutive year, is always full of surprises. Often those surprises involve fast-changing course conditions: sudden rainstorms, temperature fluctuations and shifting winds.
This year’s twist was a welcome one for most riders. After rolling out on a cold, windy and rainy morning, skies cleared for the second half of the near six-and-a-half hour death march. The stiff wind from the northwest wouldn’t abate, but the parting of the morning’s angry clouds was a relief to many.
The day’s first real breakaway was shaped when Thierry Marichal (Cofidis), Ludovic Auger (Française des Jeux), Michael Albasini (Liquigas), Bram Schmitz (T-Mobile), David Boucher (Unibet) and Rik Reinerink (Skil-Shimano) broke off around the 95km mark, just after a feed zone in Harelbeke. Ten kilometers later, the leaders’ gap was at a minute, and 30km later it was more than three minutes.
With the roads still wet from the morning rain, and the group still nervous, there were plenty of crashes before the real attrition began on the cobblestone climbs. Heading into the first climb, the Molenberg at 145km, Boonen made his intentions clear by going to the front of the group. More than 110 kilometers, and all 17 climbs, remained.
“I’ve said all week that I’m the favorite here,” said Boonen. “I haven’t been hiding that fact.”
Over the next 10 climbs, the damage was remarkable. The lead group dwindled to 14 riders. “It was a race like 50 years ago,” Boonen said. “Long and hard. The first 100 K’s, I think there were already 50 guys who were completely dead. Normally at the Tour of Flanders, after the Kwaremont [at 174km] it separates, but no really big differences, but today after three or four hills it was already [blown apart].”
With 33km to go, after the summit of the Valkenberg climb, Hoste made his vicious attack. There was never any question that Hincapie was the leader of the Discovery Channel team, so the initial reaction to Hoste’s move might have been to consider it a set-up.
But Boonen wasn’t taking any chances. “I didn’t jump on Leif’s wheel to go away with just two of us,” he said. “I thought some other guys would come, and also Paolo [Bettini].”
In his Quick Step teammate Bettini, Boonen had a superdomestique; the Italian kept his nose to the grindstone in the chase group, and showed a spark that indicated that, had things been different, he might have been able to contend for the win himself.
But things didn’t turn out exactly as expected — by Boonen or anyone else — after that two-man move went away. “When I got to the top of the climb, I looked behind me and didn’t see anybody,” he said. “Then one kilometer later I looked back, and nobody was coming.”
Boonen had Bettini behind him, but Hoste also had Hincapie. The American knew he was having one of the best days of his long racing career, but there was little he could do as the gap to Boonen and his teammate Hoste widened.
“That’s racing,” said Hincapie. “[Hoste] was in the break, and he had to believe in his chances. I was maybe a little frustrated because I was in the back and couldn’t do anything, but I had to let Leif go and just cover all the breaks.”
The American did cover the breaks, showing that near the end of the day, he still had pop. “Me and Bettini covered every move. I had the legs to be there, but that’s racing. You just keep fighting. [Hoste] played his card, and unfortunately he didn’t win,” Hincapie said later. “But second and third is good.”
And as he once again set his sights on Paris-Roubaix, Hincapie is still hoping to improve on second or third. And that his legs feel just as good in one week’s time.
Melchers wins again
In the 111km women’s Tour of Flanders, Mirjam Melchers of the Buitenpoort-Flexpoint team repeated as the winner, but under happier circumstances than last year. At the 2005 race, Melchers took a bittersweet victory after a chase group was sent off course 2km before the finish.
“It’s always a crazy race, Flanders,” said the Dutchwoman Melchers after outsprinting Christiane Soeder (Univega) of Austria for the win on Sunday. “It was raining this morning, so a few cobblestones were wet in the beginning.”
Melchers was one of many who got behind a crash and a split on the very first hill the women faced, the Molenberg. Melchers and scores of others were forced to push their bikes up some of the steep, slippery pitch.
Melchers’s American teammate Amber Neben played a role in the victory, despite some travel headaches that forced her to start less than 24 hours after arriving in Belgium from the U.S. Neben was coming off a win at last week’s Redlands Classic, where she raced with a regional California team.
“I did some work in the middle of the race, just setting tempo on the climbs and across the tops, trying to make it hard,” Neben said. “Then once [Melchers] got away, we were just trying to protect and discourage people from jumping across.”
While two Discovery Channel riders stood atop the podium on Sunday, two of their teammates were less fortunate, according to Agence France Presse. Roger Hammond took 14 stitches in his right knee after crashing during the Tour of Flanders and seems likely to miss Wednesday’s Ghent Wevelgem, while Michael Barry suffered injuries to his face and vertebrae and could be sidelined “for several months,” according to director Dirk DeMol.
1. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step 6:24:26 (40.414kph)
2. Leif Hoste (B), Discovery
3. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery, at 1:17
4. Peter Van Petegem (B), Davitamon
5. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), CSC
7. Paolo Bettini (I), Quick Step, at 1:50
8. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC
9. Andreas Klier (G), T-Mobile
10. Roberto Petito (I), Tenax
11. Erik Zabel (G), Milram, at 3:29
1. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Innergetic 6:24:26 (40.413kph),
2. Leif Hoste (B), Discovery, s.t.
3. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery, at 1:17
4. Peter Van Petegem (B), Davitamon-Lotto, at 1:17
5. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre-Fondital, at 1:17
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), CSC, at 1:17
7. Paolo Bettini (I), Quick Step-Innergetic, at 1:50
8. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC, at 1:50
9. Andreas Klier (G), T-Mobile, at 1:50
10. Roberto Petito (I), Tenax Salmilano, at 1:50
11. Erik Zabel (G), Milram, at 3:29
12. Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Sp), Rabobank, at 3:29
13. Filippo Pozzato (I), Quick Step-Innergetic, at 4:21
14. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Crédit Agricole,at 4:21
15. Bernhard Eisel (Aut), Française Des Jeux, at 8:03
16. David Kopp (G), Gerolsteiner, at 8:03
17. Nick Nuyens (B), Quick Step-Innergetic, at 8:03
18. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 8:03
19. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner, at 8:03
20. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), CSC, at 8:03
21. Baden Cooke (Aus), Unibet.Com, at 8:03
22. Erik Dekker (Nl), Rabobank, at 8:03
23. Bert Roesems (B), Davitamon-Lotto, at 8:03
24. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery, at 8:03
25. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), T-Mobile, at 8:03
26. Rik Verbrugghe (B), Cofidis, at 8:03
27. Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Sp), Rabobank, at 8:45
28. Frédéric Guesdon (F), Française Des Jeux,
29. Markus Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner, at 8:45
30. Matthew Wilson (Aus), Unibet.Com, at 8:45
31. Wilfried Cretskens (B), Quick Step-Innergetic, at 8:45
32. Luca Paolini (I), Liquigas, at 8:45
33. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Phonak, at 8:45
34. Allan Johansen (Dk), CSC, at 8:45
35. Christian Knees (G), Milram, at 8:45
36. Staf Scheirlinckx (B), Cofidis, at 8:45
37. Grégory Rast (Swi), Phonak, at 8:45
38. Constantin Zaballa Gutierrez (Sp), Caisse D'epargne, at 8:45
39. Vicente Reynes Mimo (Sp), Caisse D'epargne, at 8:45
40. Thierry Marichal (B), Cofidis, at 8:45
41. Fabio Baldato (I), Tenax Salmilano, at 12:27
42. Matteo Carrara (I), Lampre-Fondital, at 12:27
43. Marcus Burghardt (G), T-Mobile, at 12:27
44. Sébastien Hinault (F), Crédit Agricole, at 12:27
45. Marco Serpellini (I), Unibet.Com, at 12:27
46. Aart Vierhouten (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 12:27
47. Marco Velo (I), Milram, at 12:27
48. Niko Eeckhout (B), Chocolade Jacques, at 12:27
49. Paolo Bossoni (I), Tenax Salmilano, at 12:27
50. Andy Flickinger (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 12:27
51. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Phonak, at 12:27
52. José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Sp), Caisse D'epargne, at 12:27
53. Gert Steegmans (B), Davitamon-Lotto, at 12:27
54. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), Crédit Agricole, at 12:27
55. Wim Vansevenant (B), Davitamon-Lotto, at 12:27
56. Enrico Franzoi (I), Lampre-Fondital, at 12:27
57. Peter Wrolich (Aut), Gerolsteiner, at 12:27
58. Frederik Willems (B), Chocolade Jacques, at 12:27
59. Marc Wauters (B), Rabobank, at 12:27
60. Serge Baguet (B), Quick Step-Innergetic, at 12:27
61. Frank Hoj (Dk), Gerolsteiner, at 12:27
62. Sven Renders (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, at 15:54
63. De Kort (Nl), Koen Liberty Seguros, at 15:54
64. Angel Castresana Del Val (Sp), Unibet.Com, at 16:21
65. Mark Renshaw (Aus), Crédit Agricole, at 16:21
66. Luke Roberts (Aus), CSC, at 16:21
67. Henk Vogels (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, at 16:21
68. Maarten Tjallingii (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 16:21
69. Ludovic Auger (F), Française Des Jeux, at 16:21
70. Ralf Grabsch (G), Milram, at 16:21
71. Jimmy Casper (F), Cofidis, at 16:21
72. Jérôme Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 16:21
73. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus), Discovery, at 16:21
74. Joost Posthuma (Nl), Rabobank, at 16:21
75. Daniele Pietropolli (I), Tenax Salmilano, at 16:21
76. Sébastien Minard (F), Cofidis, at 16:21
77. Alexandre Moos (Swi), Phonak, at 16:21
78. Jan Boven (Nl), Rabobank, at 16:21
79. Yannick Talabardon (F), Crédit Agricole, at 16:21
80. Koen Barbe (B), Chocolade Jacques, at 18:58
81. Marco Milesi (I), Liquigas, at 18:58
82. Erki Pütsep (Est), Ag2R Prevoyance, at 19:16
83. Kurt Hovelynck (B), Chocolade Jacques, at 19:16
84. Markel Irizar Aranburu (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi
85. Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 19:16
86. Ruslan Pidgornyy (Ukr), Tenax Salmilano, at 19:16
87. Enrico Poitschke (G), Milram, at 19:16
88. Alessandro Cortinovis (I), Milram, at 19:16
89. Franck Renier (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 19:16
90. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Rabobank, at 19:16
91. Gustav Erik Larsson (S), Française Des Jeux, at 19:16
92. Maarten Den Bakker (Nl), Milram, at 19:16
93. Renaud Dion (F), Ag2R Prevoyance, at 19:16
94. Koldo Fernandez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 19:16
95. Joseba Zubeldia Agirre (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 19:16
96. Maarten Wynants (B), Chocolade Jacques, at 19:16
97. Johan Coenen (B), Unibet.Com, at 19:16
98. John Gadret (F), Ag2R Prevoyance, at 19:16
99. Christophe Mengin (F), Française Des Jeux, at 19:16
100. Paolo Fornaciari (I), Lampre-Fondital, at 19:16
101. Frederik Veuchelen (B), Chocolade Jacques, at 19:16
102. Stefano Zanini (I), Liquigas, at 19:16
199 starters, 102 finishers
1. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Innergetic 89 pts
2. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre-Fondital 70
3. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak 52
4. Thomas Dekker (Nl), Rabobank 51
5. Filippo Pozzato (I), Quick Step-Innergetic 50
6. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Milram 47
7. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery 45
8. Francisco Javier Vila Errandonea (Sp), Lampre-Fondital 43
9. Leif Hoste (B), Discovery 42
10. Jörg Jaksche (G), Liberty Seguros 40