Tom Boonen continued a superb start to the 2012 season with victory today  at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke.

Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) sprints to victory at the E3 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."

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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