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Columbia’s Boasson Hagen wins Ghent-Wevelgem

Edvald Boasson Hagen. His name doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue, but it’s a name you’d better remember because the young Norwegian is only 21 and he has just won his first spring classic. Ghent-Wevelgem may not be the biggest of the classics, and a lot of young riders have won it and not gone on to bigger and better results. But it seems that Boasson Hagen is a little different, a little more special.

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By John Wilcockson

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Boasson Hagen handled the final sprint with ease.

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Boasson Hagen handled the final sprint with ease.

Photo: Agence France Presse

Edvald Boasson Hagen. His name doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue, but it’s a name you’d better remember because the young Norwegian is only 21 and he has just won his first spring classic. Ghent-Wevelgem may not be the biggest of the classics, and a lot of young riders have won it and not gone on to bigger and better results. But it seems that Boasson Hagen is a little different, a little more special.

At least, after five hours of the most rugged racing Belgium can offer, Boasson Hagen — or simply “Eddy” as his teammate George Hincapie calls him — easily out-sprinted his breakaway companion, the Belarus rider Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), almost a minute ahead of their closest pursuers.

Before the start Wednesday, all eyes were on Mark Cavendish, the five-star favorite in everyone’s book. Nobody predicted that the super-talented Boasson Hagen would win the 71st Ghent-Wevelgem, not even his Columbia-Highroad directeur sportif Brian Holm.

“I didn’t know Edvald was going to be so strong today,” Holm told VeloNews. “He didn’t say anything … but he never says a lot.”

But Boasson Hagen showed he was one of the strongest as soon as the 203km race got underway in steady rain, cool temperatures and fierce crosswinds. The Norwegian was one of 36 riders who established a minute’s lead in the opening 20km.

2009 Ghent Wevelgem
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (N), Columbia, 5:00:31
2. Aleksandr Kuschynski (BLR), Liquigas, s.t.
3. Matthew Goss (Aus), Saxo Bank, at 0:52
4. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Rabobank, at 0:52
5. Andreas Klier (G), Cervélo TestTeam, at 0:55
6. Koldo Fernandez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:48
7. Marcus Burghardt (G), Columbia-Highroad, at 2:25
8. Tom Leezer (N), Rabobank, at 2:25
9. Manuel Quinziato (I), Liguigas, at 2:25
10. Jeremy Hunt (GB), Cervélo TestTeam, at 2:25

“We knew it was gonna be pretty epic,” sad Hincapie, Boasson Hagen’s roommate for the week. “From the gun, it was just blowing crosswind, everybody knew it. It was just a battle out there. We were hoping to keep Cav out of trouble. There wasn’t much room [in the echelon]; and we were trying to stay with him, but it’s tough to stay together in those conditions. You’ve just got to fight with everything you have.”

Holm explained that just as the race was splitting apart, Cavendish punctured, and there was no possibility of his teammates in the front waiting for him. But with Hincapie, Boasson Hagen, Marcus Burghardt and Bernard Eisel all in the front split, Columbia was looking good. Cervélo had more riders in the split, a total of six, including 2003 Ghent-Wevelgem winner Andreas Klier, but the six worked so hard that they were a non-factor later in the day.

Cavendish was not the only favorite to have bad luck. Homeboy Tom Boonen was the lone Quick Step rider in the front group, but he punctured when the pace was raging, and then Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara flatted. And he too was forced to drop back, leaving only 34 left at the front.

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Cavendish looked strong both times up the Kemmelberg, but the winning break was already well up the road.

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Cavendish looked strong both times up the Kemmelberg, but the winning break was already well up the road.

Photo: Graham Watson

That front group contained potential winners like Katusha sprinters Robbie McEwen and Danilo Napolitano, but Columbia was in the best possible position. “With Cav behind, we didn’t have to work,” Boasson Hagen said. “We could just follow.”

But after the initial 120km of flat, windswept racing, the course headed into the hilly, narrow back roads along the French border, and the boys in Columbia yellow always seemed in control. Burghardt made the first real attack from the front group — which was four minutes clear by this point — when they tackled the steep cobbled Kemmelberg climb for the first of two times.

But things came together before the aggressive Kuschynski, 29, triggered a counterattack. Hincapie was in the first small group to bridge to the Liquigas rider; and then Boasson Hagen went across in the next group, to help establish a 14-rider move, a half-minute ahead of the others.

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Kuschynski and Hagen on the escape.

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Kuschynski and Hagen on the escape.

Photo: Graham Watson

McEwen made a remarkable solo effort to cross the gap, but the attacks continued. Twice more, Kuschynski jumped away, and he reached the Kemmelberg the second time with a 10-second lead. It was then that Boasson Hagen sprung to life.

“I was away with a chase group very close to the Kemmel when we got caught,” Hincapie said. “I was feeling really good, and then I saw Eddy go [on the Kemmel]. At the top I just shut it down, and he pulled away, got the gap, caught the Liquigas guy[ Kuschynski] — and we were in the perfect situation. We didn’t have to chase, and Eddy’s one of the fastest guys in the world. It couldn’t have been a much better situation for us.”

There were sporadic attempts to organize a chase, but with Hincapie and Burghardt — both former winners of this race — controlling the group, none of the moved looked like disturbing the two in front. Even a trio led by Klier and the Australians Matt Goss (Saxo Bank) and Matt Hayman (Rabobank) could get no closer than 53 seconds — with Goss taking the sprint for third.

“I led out with 300 meters to go,” Boasson Hagen said. “It was a long sprint, but I was confident. I like to do these races.”

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Boasson Hagen had a confortable gap.

2009 Ghent-Wevelgem: Boasson Hagen had a confortable gap.

Photo: Graham Watson

That was a surprising statement, given the young Norwegian’s experience in the Tour of Flanders last Sunday.

“He had a pretty difficult Tour of Flanders,” Holm explained. “He had diarrhea and he had to stop to go to the toilet three times. We knew he was strong, but that must have taken something out of him.”

“It was awesome,” Hincapie added. “It’s huge for Eddy. We already knew it from last year [when he won five races], and it doesn’t get much tougher than today.”

The conditions were like those beloved by Eddy Merckx several decades ago. The original Eddy won at Wevelgem for the first of three times in 1967. He was 21 at the time, just like this new Eddy. Boasson Hagen is smaller than Merckx, but he has the same appetite for winning. And Wednesday’s classic victory won’t be his last.

Photo Gallery

Results

2009 Ghent Wevelgem
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (N), Columbia-Highroad, 203km in 5:00:31 (40.53kph)
2. Aleksandr Kuschynski (BLR), Liquigas, at same time
3. Matthew Goss (Aus), Saxo Bank, at 0:52
4. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Rabobank, at 0:52
5. Andreas Klier (G), Cervélo TestTeam, at 0:55
6. Koldo Fernandez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:48
7. Marcus Burghardt (G), Columbia-Highroad, at 2:25
8. Tom Leezer (N), Rabobank, at 2:25
9. Manuel Quinziato (I), Liguigas, at 2:25
10. Jeremy Hunt (GB), Cervélo TestTeam, at 2:25
11. Chris Sutton (Aus), Garmin-Slipstream, at 2:25
12. Cyril Lemoine (Fra), Skil-Shimano, at 2:25
13. Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr), Française des Jeux, at 2:25
14. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Katusha, at 2:25
15. Matti Breschel (Den), Saxo Bank, at 2:25
16. George Hincapie (USA), Columbia-Highroad, at 2:25
17. Murilo Fischer (Bra), Liquigas, at 2:25
18. Assan Bazayev (Kaz), Astana, at 2:25
19. Dominique Rollin (Can), Cervélo TestTeam, at 2:25
20. Klaas Lodewyck (Bel), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, at 2:25
21. Bram Tankink (Ned), Rabobank, at 2:25
22. Marlon Pérez (Col), Caisse d’Epargne, at 2:25
23. Bradley Wiggins (GB), Garmin-Slipstream, at 2:25
24. Servais Knaven (Ned), Milram, at 2:30
25. Danilo Napolitano (I), Katusha, at 2:34
26. Michiel Elijzen (Ned), Silence-Lotto, at 8:01
27. Brett Lancaster (Aus), Cervélo TestTeam, at 8:01, at
28. Daniel Lloyd (GB), Cervélo TestTeam, at 10:20
29. Gabriel Rasch (Nor), Cervélo TestTeam, at 10:20, at
30. Kenny Van Hummel (Ned), Skil-Shimano, at 10:20, at
31. Aurélien Clerc (Swi), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 11:34
32. Guillaume Blot (Fra), Cofidis, at 11:35
33. Wouter Weylandt (Bel), Quick Step, at 11:35
34. René Weissinger (G), Vorarlberg-Corratec, at 11:35
35. Bobbie Traksel (Ned), Vacansoleil, at 11:35
36. Sébastien Hinault (Fra), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 11:35
37. Michael Schär (Swi), Astana, at 11:35
38. Borut Bozic (Slo), Vacansoleil, at 11:35
39. Loyd Mondory (Fra), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 11:35
40. Wouter Mol (Ned), Vacansoleil, at 11:35
41. Tom Veelers (Ned), Skil-Shimano, at 11:35
42. Hervé Duclos-Lassalle (Fra), Cofidis, at 11:35
43. Geert Steurs (Bel), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, at 11:35
44. Nikolas Maes (Bel), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, at 11:35
45. Mark Renshaw (Aus), Columbia-Highroad, at 11:35
46. Renaud Dion (Fra), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 11:35
47. Marcel Sieberg (G), Columbia-Highroad, at 11:35
48. Mathieu Drujon (Fra), Caisse d’Epargne, at 11:35
49. Roy Sentjens (Bel), Silence-Lotto, at 11:35
50. Robert Förster (G), Milram, at 11:35
51. Angelo Furlan (I), Lampre-NGC, at 11:35
52. José Joaquín Rojas (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 11:35
53. Alexei Markov (Rus), Katusha, at 11:35
54. Sébastien Turgot (Fra), Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 11:35
55. Mark Cavendish (GB), Columbia-Highroad, at 11:35
56. Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Rabobank, at 11:35
57. Marco Velo (I), Quick Step, at 11:35
58. Jacopo Guarnieri (I), Liquigas, at 11:35
59. Mauro Da Dalto (I), Lampre-NGC, at 11:35
60. Hans Dekkers (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, at 11:35
61. Mitchell Docker (Aus), Skil-Shimano, at 11:35
62. Vicente Reynes (Sp), Columbia-Highroad, at 11:35
63. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), Saxo Bank, at 11:35
64. Johnny Hoogerland (Ned), Vacansoleil, at 11:35
65. Nikolai Trusov (Rus), Katusha, at 11:35
66. Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe), Saxo Bank, at 11:35
67. Arnaud Coyot (Fra), Caisse d’Epargne, at 11:35
68. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Cofidis, at 11:35
69. Alexandre Blain (Fra), Cofidis, at 11:35
70. Sébastien Portal (Fra), Cofidis, at 11:35
71. Tom Boonen (Bel), Quick Step, at 11:35
72. Kasper Klostergård (Den), Saxo Bank, at 11:35
73. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sp), Rabobank, at 11:35
74. Roger Hammond (GB), Cervélo TestTeam, at 11:35
75. Daniel Oss (I), Liquigas, at 11:35
76. Marco Bandiera (I), Lampre-NGC, at 11:35
77. Matteo Tosatto (I), Quick Step, at 11:35
78. Juan José Haedo (Arg), Saxo Bank, at 11:35
79. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre-NGC, at 11:35
80. Maarten Wynants (Bel), Quick Step, at 11:35
81. Rick Flens (Ned), Rabobank, at 11:35
82. Gregory Rast (Swi), Astana, at 11:35
83. Romain Villa (Fra), Cofidis, at 11:35
84. Stéphane Poulhiès (Fra), Ag2r La Mondiale, at 11:35
85. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Saxo Bank, at 11:35
86. Björn Leukemans (Bel), Vacansoleil, at 11:35
87. Kevin Van Impe (Bel), Quick Step, at 11:35