Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen fail to figure in frigid Ghent-Wevelgem

Boonen crashed and later abandoned, while Cancellara pulled out in the feed zone without explanation

WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — The bone-chilling Ghent-Wevelgem took its toll on the kings of the cobbles Sunday, as both Fabian Cancellara and defending champion Tom Boonen abandoned the race amid freezing temperatures, but for differing reasons.

Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) won two days ago in a solo strike at E3 Harelbeke, signaling he had returned to top form, but abandoned Ghent-Wevelgem in the feed zone. There was no immediate word from the team on why he elected to call it off.

Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) ended his campaign after a hard crash at the foot of the Kemmelberg. The Belgian national champion sat on the pavement for minutes before remounting his bike and riding the berg alone, and with care. Early indications point to a potential right knee injury.

“Everybody was looking for good position for the Kemmelberg,” Boonen said. “I was waiting in the group for the right and last moment to go to the front so I didn’t spend so much energy.

“At the moment I thought ‘Okay, this is the time to go,’ another rider passed me from the right, so I had to wait for a few seconds. In those few seconds the curb went from zero to 10 centimeters. The rider in front of me didn’t see it and he wanted to go. So, I had to react and didn’t have enough room to jump on it. I touched it with my front wheel and went down pretty hard.

“My knee is swollen, it hurts, but we’ll see how it reacts tomorrow. Now is important to keep calm now and don’t try to run before we can walk.”

It was a tough day all around, with temperatures in the 30s and a frigid wind ripping through the peloton. The race was shortened on Saturday in order to keep the riders out of the cold for nearly 50km, with the actual start of the race moved from Deinze up the road to Gistel.

Boonen won Ghent-Wevelgem last season, but wasn’t Omega’s only card to play Sunday; sprint ace Mark Cavendish was tucked into the peloton as well. But the break containing Peter Sagan (Cannondale) proved too much to overcome, and Sagan took the win solo after fleeing the break some 3km from the finish.

Boonen and Cancellara are expected to do battle next Sunday at the Tour of Flanders. Boonen triumphed last year, en route to winning Paris-Roubaix as well, but his main rival went missing from the action as the big Swiss broke a collarbone in the Flanders feed zone due to a stray bidon.

After his win on Friday at Harelbeke, Cancellara said he only hoped to race Boonen if the Belgian was at 100 percent. Both will have to contend with Sagan, who broke his streak second-place finishes on Sunday in Wevelgem.

“It’s not like I can try to win all the races. The others are watching me, it makes it even harder to win,” Sagan said. “If I placed second, it shows that I was up there with the favorites. For sure, today, I was there today, first.”