Tom Boonen continued a superb start to the 2012 season with victory today at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke.
Boonen took a record fifth victory in the race by outsprinting three-time world road race champion, Oscar Freire (Katusha).
Numerous attacks throughout the race came to nought, leaving Boonen perfectly placed to sprint to victory.
“It was not only important for a good result, but also important for the head a little bit and the sensations on the climbs,” said Boonen.
“That’s why I was doing a few big attacks. I wasn’t really saving myself for the sprint. But then in the end, everything came together and I think everybody was suffering. It doesn’t matter if they were in the front or the back. I was not very comfortable in the sprint but sure, I was still going to do a good sprint and was trying to win. I could get 2nd or 3rd, it’s always possible, but in the end I won. So I’m happy.”
Boonen had already taken overall victory in the Tour of Qatar, won a stage of Paris-Nice, and finished second in Omloop Het Niewsblad this season.
A disappointed Freire said Boonen’s knowledge of the course helped the Belgian secure the victory, and paid tribute to his rival, describing his sprint as ‘perfect’.
“He did a really good sprint, he was perfect, and instead I made a mistake: there was a bend in the last few hundred metres, and I couldn´t see that the finishing line was so close, so I started my rush too late. I almost caught him: with a few more metres, I could have won,” said Freire.
The Spaniard said he would race for victory in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, but declared himself ‘not one of the forerunners’ for the Ronde van Vlaanderen in a week’s time.
The final step on the podium was claimed by Bernard Eisel, who followed Mark Cavendish to Team Sky after serving as the Manx Missile’s lieutenant at the now defunct HTC-Highroad.
Team Sky directeur sportif, Steven de Jong, said: “It was a really nice podium finish from Bernie. I think having six guys on the start grid and doing a ride like the boys did we can’t complain. Me and Servais [Knaven, directeur sportif] are really proud about of what the team did today.”
E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke – result
1) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 4:51:59
2) Oscar Freire (SPA) – Katusha Team
3) Bernhard Eisel (AUT) – Sky Procycling
4) Leonardo Fabio Duque (Col) – Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
5) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Garmin-Barracuda
6) John Degenkolb (GER) – Project 1t4i
7) Matthieu Ladagnous (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat
8) Alexandre Pichot (FRA) – Team Europcar
9) Alessandro Ballan (ITA) – BMC Racing Team
10) Sébastien Turgot (FRA) – Team Europcar