By Andrew Hood
Tom Boonen can rest easy this weekend knowing that his Quick Step-Innergetic teammates will be backing him 100 percent as he enters Sunday’s Tour of Flanders as the heavy favorite.
The defending Flanders champion – who didn’t race the final stage at Three Days of De Panne on Thursday to avoid a crash – will count on support from teammates Paolo Bettini and Filippo Pozzato to protect him in the hectic Flanders finale.
“I’m in better condition this year as opposed to the same time last year,” Boonen said in a team release. “Last year I fell during the De Panne, injuring my hand. This year I’ll be taking part in the race without being conditioned by health problems. Our team is very tough, maybe even the best but as always the competition is difficult. I hope the weather will be good and dry therefore limiting the risks of falling.”
Bettini and Pozzato, meanwhile, were scheduled to recon the Flanders route today in final preparations for the big race on Sunday, including closer looks at the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg sections.
Quick Step won the spring classics opener at Milan-San Remo with Pozzato using savvy team tactics. Bettini is hopeful for a Boonen repeat this weekend.
“The Tour of Flanders is one of my favorite races. For this reason, I decided to come to Belgium a few days early in order to try out the route,” Bettini said. “Our team will be starting the race with Tom as our leader who will have to be protected. It will be very important for us as a team to be with him during the final phases and for us not to make any mistakes.”
Quick Step-Innergetic for Flanders
Kevin Van Impe
Disco burning up for Flanders
Discovery Channel is feeling confident ahead of this weekend’s Flanders showdown after the team went 1-2-3 in the final TT at De Panne and won the race with Leif Hoste.
George Hincapie will headline a strong team that also include 2004 runner-up Hoste, Stijn Devolder, newcomer Vladimir Gusev and Roger Hammond with strong support from veterans such as Michael Barry, Viatcheslav Ekimov and Matt White.
Discovery lost the services of Dutch fastman Max Van Heeswijk for at least two weeks, who crashed in Thursday’s De Panne stage and injured his knee. Van Heeswijk was eyeing the sprinter-friendly Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesday, but stitches on his knee will keep him out of the lineup.
Discovery Channel for Flanders
Viatchslev “Eki” Ekimov
Van Petegem still believes
Despite the journalistic orgy surrounding the exploits of Tom Boonen, compatriot Peter Van Petegem still believes he can contend for victory on Sunday.
The two-time winner is always a consistent threat and finished third last year behind Boonen and Andreas Klier (T-Mobile). The 36-year-old just gets better with age, or so he hopes.
“The preparation has gone well,” Van Petegem told AFP. “I haven’t been sick, I haven’t crashed and the team was strong at De Panne. I promise there will be something to talk about with me at Flanders and Roubaix.”
Davitamon-Lotto for Flanders
Peter Van Petegem
Wim de Vocht
Leon van Bon
Klier confident, Wesemann out
T-Mobile’s Andreas Klier is motivated to step one place higher on the Flanders podium and make a run for overall victory, but he won’t count on 2004 champion Steffen Wesemann, who pulled out Friday with the flu.
“In his current conditions Steffen wouldn’t be able to make any impact on the race’s crucial final stages,” said T-Mobile’s sporting director for the classics Valerio Piva on the team’s web page. “It would even be too risky to have him there just in a helper’s role. So it’s better to give him time and space to recover, so he will be back to full fitness in time for Paris-Roubaix.”
Klier, runner-up last year, said he’s “fired up for Flanders” and will be able to count on strong support from Lorenzo Bernucci – who missed Milan-San Remo with a cold – and Sergey Ivanov, Marcus Burghardt and Bram Schmitz.
“Lorenzo is very important to our tactics, he can be a huge help to Andreas in the closing stages,” says Piva, who also points to the good form of Stephan Schreck, Bram Schmitz and Marcus Burghardt. “Marcus was solid at the Dwars Door Flanderen, and Bram is competitive again after fighting back bravely from his close season injury.”
T-Mobile for Flanders
André Korff (replacing Steffen Wesemann)
CSC happy with outsider role
Team CSC knows it’s not lining up as one of the favorites for victory, but that’s just fine for Bjarne’s Army. Despite the absence of Stuart O’Grady, Team CSC brings a full hand to play with the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Karsten Kroon, second in last weekend’s Brabantse Pijl.
“We have a handful of riders on top form, and considering the previous cobble stone races, we know we’re strong all round. I think our results lately justify a certain amount of optimism. In my opinion we have a very real chance of a victory,” said sport director Scott Sunderland on the team’s web page.
“Anything can happen in a race like Tour of Flanders, but one thing is for sure: only the strong survive,” he continued. “We have been out training on some of the strategic spots to refresh our memories, and also to make sure the riders are familiar with the route. We’ve done absolutely everything in our power to be ready so now we’ll have to wait and see what happens on Sunday. Personally I think we’ll go far.”
Team CSC for Flanders