By Agence France Presse
World road champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic) outsprinted breakaway companion Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) to win his third consecutive E3 Prijs Vlaanderen Saturday in Harelbeke , Belgium.
Boonen, 25, claimed his 11th victory of the season a little over a week before he will bid to claim his second consecutive Tour of Flanders crown.
He thus becomes just the third rider, after Belgian great Rik Van Looy and Dutch great Jan Raas, to win the Harelbeke race three times in a row.
Since his stock went sky high last season, Boonen has often been unstoppable when it comes to fighting off the peloton’s big guns. So it didn’t take much for him to outsprint Ballan, who had prompted Boonen to follow him when he attacked the peloton on the Patersberg climb around 40km from the finish.
“It was the best time to go for it,” explained Boonen. “When a guy as dynamic as Ballan attacks you can’t afford to ignore him.”
Together they took their lead to over a minute, and at the finish it was a minute and a half before Dutchman Aarrt Vierhouten (Skil-Shimano) finished in third place.
Boonen’s apparent ease on the cobblestones augurs well for next week’s first big challenge of the spring classics campaign at Flanders.
The Quick Step team’s big one-day race specialist last year won at Flanders for the first time, and secured a prestigious double when he took victory over the grueling cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix a week later.
Boonen added: “It’s a superb victory, and has reassured me ahead of next week’s race. At the start of the year I was a bit apprehensive about this season, especially wearing the (world champion) rainbow jersey, but my early season victories at the Tour of Qatar got me off to a great start.
“Since then, I’ve been riding like a dream.”
Cunego wins in Italy
Damiano Cunego (Lampre) finished sixth in the final stage on Saturday to claim the overall title in the Settimana Ciclistica.
Cunego crossed 37 seconds behind a four-rider lead group in the 263km run from Castellarono to Sassuolo to conserve his two-second lead over Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas).
Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) won the stage, outsprinting Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic) and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas).
1. Riccardo Ricco (I), Saunier Duval, 163.6km in 4:09:33 (39.334 km/h)
2. Paolo Bettini (I), Quick Step-Innergetic, same time
3. Franco Pellizotti (I), Liquigas, s.t.
4. Rinaldo Nocentini (I), Acqua Sapone, s.t.
5. Emanuele Sella (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, at 0:29
1. Damiano Cunego (I), Lampre), 20:45:51 (39.163 km/h)
2. Vincenzo Nibali (I), Liquigas, at 0:02
3. Mario Aerts (B), Davitamon-Lotto, at 0:11
4. Sergio Ghisalberti (I), Milram, at 0:14
5. Luca Mazzanti (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, at 0:17
Unibet.com, Bruylandts put contract talks on hold
Unibet.com and Dave Bruylandts have placed their contract talks on hold pending the outcome of a police investigation, the team has announced.
On Thursday, Belgian police raided the homes of a dozen pro racers, reportedly turning up such banned doping products as EPO, clenbuterol, nandrolone and a mix of human growth hormones and insulin.
Police refused to release the names of the riders whose homes were searched, but the Belgian daily Gazet van Antwerpen printed and Unibet.com later confirmed that among them were Bruylandts and team rider Geert Omloop, the Belgian national champion in 2003.
Team officials said Omloop would be temporarily suspended from the squad until an internal investigation is concluded, but added it appeared no banned products were found in Omloop’s residence.
Bruylandts, who is serving a two-year racing ban for EPO set to expire March 31, was to sign a contract with Unibet.com on April 1. But after a meeting Saturday, team manager Koen Terryn and Bruylandts issued a joint statement announcing that “with respect for the presumption of innocence, the negotiations for an employment contract will be postponed.”