Ronde van Vlaanderen

Frustrating finale at Flanders

Boonen wins Belgium's biggest race for third time

Last updated: 4th April 2012

Edvald Boasson Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha both made the top 20 in a crash-strewn Tour of Flanders which was won by Tom Boonen.

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Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider Boonen equalled the record of most wins with a third victory in the second of cycling's five annual Monuments as he prevailed in a three-way sprint to the line, beating Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing), the trio 38 seconds clear of the rest.

The complexion of the contest - which this year featured three closing loops each taking in the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs - was first changed just over 60 kilometres out when Boonen's chief rival Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) crashed out of contention.

The Swiss star came down in the feedzone and it was quickly clear he would be unable to continue. He was taken to hospital and later had surgery on a broken collarbone.

But perhaps the pivotal moment for Boasson Hagen's chances in the 255km race from Bruges to Oudenaarde came with 34km remaining, going up the 12.9% Paterberg climb for the second time. It was there that Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) went into the barriers and his crash caused a domino effect which held up a number of contenders, including the Norwegian.

Up until that point he had been well placed throughout during an active and aggressive display from Team Sky but the delay meant he missed out on the front selection of 11 riders, though team-mate Flecha made it into that group on what was an encouraging return for the Spaniard following a hand injury.

Those 11 riders opened up an advantage of 30 seconds but strong work from the likes of Bernhard Eisel, Christian Knees and Ian Stannard helped Boasson Hagen rejoin the front group as around 40-50 riders came back together with 20km and two climbs remaining.

Final showdown

And it was the first of those ramps, the Oude Kwaremont, which saw the race-defining move as Ballan attacked and was joined by Boonen and Pozzato.

That trio gradually pulled clear of the chasing pack and, despite the best efforts of the likes of Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) to bridge the gap, they soon had the race between them.

Their advantage was over a minute going into the final kilometre and a game of cat-and-mouse saw Boonen open up his sprint early and have enough in reserve to hold off Pozzato, with Ballan in third. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) won the battle for fourth, just ahead of Sagan.

Team Sky had to settle for 19th and 20th with Boasson Hagen and Flecha respectively, while Eisel (54th), Stannard (57th) and Knees (58th) were in the next group back.

Mathew Hayman, who had been involved in three separate attempts to chip off the front, was their final finisher in 79th.

Turning point

Afterwards Sports Director Steven de Jongh was left to reflect on what might have been, saying: "We were just caught out there on the Paterberg when Edvald and Bernie got caught up by that crash.

"That was really the turning point in the race for us because Edvald was in between the two groups and the guys in front were still riding hard. We told him to wait and then the others helped him get back to the front group but he couldn't quite go with the three who went clear.

"Lucky or unlucky, it’s just how the race developed. But the team rode really well and if we hadn’t got stopped by that crash it could have been a lot different."

De Jongh was keen to underline several plus points, adding: "Flecha and Mathew have both been out with injuries so it was great to see them back and riding strongly while Bernie, Christian and Ian also did a great job and they can all be proud of their efforts."

Chris Sutton was another who had earlier forced the issue up front on behalf of the team and he talked us through how the day had panned out, saying: "Last time I did the race was in 2010. It is a big difference with the new route, especially with the laps and three times up the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. As you can see the strongest guy won today in Tom Boonen. He’s on a roll.

"We had Edvald up there and tried to protect him as much as we could. I think the team rode really well, especially Flecha coming back from a hand injury. He was looking really strong today which is promising for Paris-Roubaix next Sunday.

"It was a different Flanders it was pretty hard. My job at the beginning was to try and follow a few early moves and try not to let too big a group go. Then after that I stayed with Jez [Hunt] and Edvald and tried to help out the guys out as much as possible – going back to get bidons or feedbags, whatever they needed.

“Up the Oude Kwaremont the first time I ran out of steam. I did everything that I could."

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