Tom Boonen has made a further entry in cycling’s record books with a record-equaling third victory in Gent-Wevelgem.
The Belgian outsprinted an elite field to take a third victory in the prestigious one-day Classic, equaling the achievements of Mario Cipollini, Robert Van Eenaeme, Eddy Merckx and Rik Van Looy.
But Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) suffered a third disappointment in as many races after being distanced by a hard-charging peloton just over 30km from the finish.
Last Friday (23) Boonen set a new record by winning E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke for a fifth time, before winning Gent-Wevelgem for the second year running just two days later.
Speaking after his victory in Wevelgem, Boonen said the team had agreed at the pre-race briefing to take on the sprint if still in position after the 2,100 metre Kemmelberg climb.
“It’s the key point of the race, about 35km from the finish,” said Boonen. “We passed with four or five riders so that was really a good sign. I came from the second row. It was a bit close on the left hand side, but I made the right decision because, with the headwind, I tried to stay covered until the very last moment. Then, when I saw the possibility, I decided it was time to do the sprint. I’m in good shape. I already showed my condition on Friday and I am content.”
Peter Sagan, the youngest rider to crack the IG Markets Pro Cycling Index top 10, continued a fine run of form that has already brought stage wins at the Tour of Oman and Tirenno-Adriatico, by finishing second. The Slovak followed an ultimately doomed attack from Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) on the brutal climb of the Kemmelberg, but still had the legs to contest the final sprint.
Sagan said: “Daniel Oss did a perfect job to drive me on the final straight and I think I haven’t done any mistakes. Boonen was simply superior: I pay him my compliments. For me it is a good result and another important experience for the future. As I always said, to win these races you don’t need only good shape. First of all you have to understand them. Now let’s think to De Panne and then Flanders: I would like to exploit this week to refine the condition and be at the top.”
Rabobank’s Matti Breschel was third, finishing ahead of fourth placed Oscar Friere (Katusha) and Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, who was fifth.
But Cavendish, the Team Sky leader who lost contact in Milan-San Remo and later abandoned, again found himself distanced by the bunch. Cavendish said: “We got isolated before the Monteberg. It’s the usual thing, you just have to be behind the one wheel that loses the wheel. We turned left off the Kemmelberg and it was one line, the rider in front lost the wheel. It wasn’t that hard but by the time you look up you’ve lost 30 metres and you can’t really get across.
“Normally if you are top 25 over the Kemmelberg you are usually alright and I was top 25 so I thought I was laughing. Next time I’ll have to be in the top 10.”
BMC Racing’s elite Classics squad also suffered a disappointing day. Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd were in the Cavendish group, while Alessandro Ballan finished 15 seconds down and Greg Van Avermaet was brought down with JJ Rojas (Movistar) in the closing metres.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead (AA Drink-leontien.nl) won the inaugural women’s Gent-Wevelgem race, run from Middlekerk to Wevelgem.
The 23-year-old secured her second consecutive victory after winning the Omloop van het Hageland earlier this month. Armitstead is likely to contest the women’s road race at this summer’s Olympic Games.
1) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 5:32:44
2) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Liquigas-Cannondale
3) Matti Breschel (DEN) – Rabobank
4) Oscar Freire (SPA) – Katusha Team
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Sky Procycling
6) Daniele Bennati (ITA) – Radioshack-Nissan
7) Marco Marcato (ITA) – Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
8) Steve Chainel (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat
9) Filippo Pozzato (ITA) – Farnese Vini-Selle Italia
10) Giovanni Visconti (ITA) – Movistar Team