At the end of the 74th edition of Gent-Wevelgem the flowers were once again awarded to Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), just as they had been in Friday’s E3-Prijs Harelbeke. The 2005 world champion continues his impressive demonstration of form and confidence which started early this season in Argentina’s Tour de San Luis.
In contrast to the superhuman Boonen from 2005-2006 this version is one is more economical. Despite winning two classics in a row he didn’t waste too much energy and now arrives fresh at the most important cobbled classics, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Top favorite for the win in Gent-Wevelgem was world champion Mark Cavendish (Team Sky). Many sprinters have put their name on the illustrious palmarès of Gent-Wevelgem with former sprint legend Mario Cippolini being a triple winner. Despite being regarded as the fastest man in the peloton Cavendish hasn’t been able to leave his mark on the race in the last couple of years. For men like Boonen it was their primary task to keep the Manx Express at a distance after the race’s hilly zone which ends 30 kilometers from Wevelgem.
At the start Boonen already had a plan in mind to maneuver the race in his direction and hold off Cavendish. “I’ve got a plan but I’m not going to tell it. What I can say is that one of the factors will be the distance. Quite often it is hard for riders to come back to the front once they get dropped,” Boonen said.
Six hours later it was clear Boonen’s plan had succeeded.
“I was good but not completely recovered from Friday [E3-Prijs Harelbeke]," Boonen continued. "With the Kemmelberg being so far from the finish it was useless to spend energy over there. The team knew I wasn’t going to do anything there and I wanted us to stay together and set everything up to get a sprint. It worked out well and we made it over the climb well-grouped with this result as known outcome.
"It seems like everything we do works out well. Gert [Steegmans] did a great job, just like Gerald [Ciolek] and Dries [Devenyns] did all he could in his comeback race. I heard the teammates did their blocking work too at the back so I’m very grateful for all of them,” Boonen said.
A talkative Boonen seemed very happy that his sprint is back at the high level as in his younger years. Although he lost out in the three-man sprint against Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad he seems to fare much better in the group sprints.
“I was on Freire’s wheel but I’m not riding my sprint based on anybody else. I was near the front in the last kilometer. Just before the sprint started I dropped back a little to watch it from the second row. It’s easier to take it on like that. I came at the right moment – with the headwind – and went through hard and strong. Sagan stood tall for a long time but eventually cracked.
"I’m not the fastest of the world– that’s probably Mark Cavendish – but if everybody is dead-tired then I’m still one of the best. These races simply suit me perfectly and certainly when I’m in top form – which is the goal right now – I’m still very fast. I’ve given it [the sprint] some more attention this year like everybody could see during the first races of the season. Sprinting… I’ve got it back,” Boonen said.
Regarding his beloved Tour of Flanders the 31-year-old Belgian didn’t feel Gent-Wevelgem changed anything in the picking order. “I’ll certainly not say that I’ll be the man to beat because I think that’s Fabian. Cancellara and I are still 1 and 2. He’s got some percentages over me. This race didn’t influence that. Gent-Wevelgem is one of the races in the series but you can’t compare it with the Tour of Flanders. This week I’ve got to do more good training and then I’ll be ready on Sunday.”
After winning the E3-Prijs Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem the Belgian could be ready for a spectacular triple.
“Is that important? Winning is always nice. It’s important that I’ve got these two wins in the pocket. These five, six races form the most important period of the season for me. Everything I do is to be in shape for these races. Today was the most difficult race for me in the series to win but if you see I won it already three times it’s not that bad. The three races which are left are all three important, especially Flanders and Roubaix.”