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Tom Boonen won Ghent-Wevelgem Sunday over Peter Sagan and Matti Breschel. Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won for the second time in three days, after his victory Friday at the E3 Harelbeke.
“I’ll be able to go into the two most important races of the spring (the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix) without any pressure,” said Boonen. “I know now that I’m in great form. I’ll be relaxed, but I won’t forget that nothing is won in advance.”
The race seemed destined for the sprinters all day, with Sky and GreenEdge taking control of the front and forcibly holding the field together over the first nine bergs. But the final pass up the Kemmelberg began to show a few cracks in the field, and the Monteberg ripped those seams open for good a handful of kilometers later.
The early going
A break of seven containing Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha), Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Thomas Bertolini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), Stign Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Koen Barbé (Landbouwkrediet), Ion Izigarre Insausti (Euskaltel) and Kevin Van Melsen (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda’s) made its way off the front 10km into the race, and was joined by Kenny Dehaes (Lotto-Belisol) and Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) 10km later. The leader’s advantage stretched quickly, reaching 6:30 by the 35km mark, maxing out at 9:10.
Matthew Goss’ GreenEdge teammates lit the first round of fireworks as the peloton hit the Casselberg for the second time, hitting the front hard and causing chaos in the field behind. The main field split, with Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Oscar Freire (Katusha) missing out, but quickly losing 45 seconds to the rest of the favorites. A hard chase brought both back into the fold by Le Vert Mont 24km later.
The Catsberg at 160km, Le Vert Mont at 166km, Vidaigneberg at 171km and Baneberg at 172km each saw little action, as the peloton rolled up them largely en masse with few splits of consequence.
After regaining contact, Gilbert hit the gas on a flat section before the Kemmelberg, at 58km to go, testing his legs for the upcoming climbs, but was quickly overhauled by a chasing Sky train.
GreenEdge’s Svein Tuft grabbed ahold of the main field once again headed towards the Kemmelberg for the first time, still chasing three minutes behind the day’s break. Filippo Pozzatto (Farnese Vini) made a small move on the climb, showing good legs headed into the last five ramps of the day.
Two go it alone
Up front, Insautsi and Lund used the Schomminkelstraat to gap their breakaway companions, quickly pulling out a 45-second advantage. The split back to the main field sat steady at three minutes.
The leading duo’s gap to the main field dropped quickly as they hit the Kemmelberg for the final time, dropping 15 seconds on the short but brutally steep section of cobbles. The rest of the break sat 45 seconds in arrears.
BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet and Liquigas’ Peter Sagan led the main field on the Kemmelberg, setting up teammates Alessandro Ballan and Daniel Oss, respectively, to make bids for freedom over the top. The two pulled a group of eight away, with just seconds between them and a splintering field behind.
The peloton coursed between the Kemmelberg and day’s final ramp, the Monteberg, in a long, thin line, with Liquigas, Sky, BMC and Katusha sharing hard pulls and splitting the field, pulling about 40 riders away from the rest and quickly gaining 16 seconds. The breakaway’s lead continued to fall, dropping to two minutes.
Missing out on the split were world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) and André Greipel (Lotto).
Three days after suffering a handful of mishaps in Harelbeke, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) made his presence known on the paved ramps heading into the Monteberg. The Swiss pulled Sagan with him and quickly overhauled the back half of the day’s breakaway, which jumped on Cancellara’s wheel. Lund and Insautsi maintained a 1:30 gap with 30km to go.
With 25 relatively flat kilometers to go, the field was split into four groups — Lund and Insautsi held onto a minute over Cancellara, Sagan, and the remainder of the breakway; that chase group sat 16 seconds ahead of a main field with fast men Boonen, Freire, Goss, Daniele Bennati (RadioShack) and J.J. Rojas (Movistar). Further behind, the Cavendish group chased hard at 25 seconds.
Five kilometers later, the peloton overcame Cancellara’s small group and swelled to more than 40 riders. Lund and Insautsi plugged away up front, holding onto a quickly dwindling 40-second lead.
The race over the final kilometers became one between Omega Pharma-Quick Step, GreenEdge, and Katusha (working for Boonen, Goss and Freire) and Sky, working for Cavendish. The horsepower up front proved too much, and the race rode away from Cavendish and his team. The pace from the peloton also undid Lund’s and Insautsi’s plans with 15km to go.
At 10km to go, a frustrated Cavendish attempted to bridge alone, but the effort was in vain and he was quickly pulled back into the fold.
With Cavendish out of the picture, the jockeying up front began. Katusha and Omega Pharma took on the majority of the pace making, looking to their fast men Boonen and Freire in the finale.
Christian Knees (Team Sky) put in a challenge at 5km, but never gained more than a few seconds. Gerald Ciolek and Dries Devenyns chased Knees hard for Boonen and were both soon dropped.
Katusha dominated the lead out, with Omega Pharma leadout man Gert Steegmans waiting in the wings with Boonen on his wheel.
Van Avermaet made a move in the final kilometer, but with a strong headwind, could not make progress. After going too late at Harelbeke on Friday, Freire jumped early into the wind.
“I think today I did the best and I couldn’t win,” said Freire. “[The sprint was difficult because of] a lot of headwind… I started the sprint, but it was too far.”
Sagan came around on the left at 250 meters, with Boonen on his wheel, just as Rojas and Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank) hit the deck behind. The Belgian would not be denied, waiting until the final 150 meters to pop around Sagan and take his second victory this week. Sagan crossed the line in second, with Breschel in third and Freire in fourth.
“I’m very happy with my ride today,” said Breschel. “I wasn’t happy with Harelbeke. I was not myself, I was making mistakes. Today I was good, and I’m happy with third. I was beaten by two guys who are going better than me right now.”
According to Boonen, the day went perfectly to plan.
“When I took the start today, the first goal was to make it through with no crashes, especially with a day like today, with very little wind, it’s hectic, you have to stay concentrated to stay at the front,” he said. “As the race went on the group got smaller. We talked on the bus about the possibility that if we survived the Kemmel with a few guys, we would work together. We did, and we controlled the final. I took my chances, maybe taking a chance to [sprint] from the second row. But with a headwind like we had, I think it was the best solution.”