Tom Boonen was true to his pre-race declaration that he would not be content to sit in the peloton during his 15th and final Tour of Flanders. The Belgian took on the ‘trequartista' role for Quick-Step Floors, ensuring his team was in prime position at the foot of the Muur van Geraardsbergen where the race unexpectedly was made. Ultimately, Boonen finished the race in 37th position, but only after he had set up teammate Philippe Gilbert for the win.
Boonen's final race will come Sunday at Paris-Roubaix where he is chasing for a fifth victory, but De Ronde has also been a special race for the 36-year-old who tasted victory in 2005, 2006 and 2012. Gilbert's victory ensured that from his 15 starts, Boonen will finish with the record of having ridden in six winning teams at Flanders.
With Boonen and Gilbert forcing the selection over the iconic Muur to form the winning 14-man break, it appeared Quick-Step Floors were making its move too early. With Boonen consistently on the front the break when its future hung in the balance, corralling his fellow escapes to commit, it appeared Boonen's final Flanders was heading towards a fairy tale. However, of all the climbs in Flanders, it was the Taaienberg, nicknamed 'Boonenberg', that Boonen's day would come to an end as a mechanical scuppered his personal ambitions.
"I do not know what happened, because my bike was working all day," Boonen said according to Sporza. "My chain got stuck between the frame, which almost never happens. When I took my spare bike, immediately it did the same. Then you know you really are having bad luck. You know right away at such a time it is done."
Boonen was left stranded during the bike change but remained clam during the process despite knowing the race was riding away from him. After the climb, Boonen changed back onto his bike by the race had passed him by and he rode into the finish in the peloton, 3:30 minutes down on Gilbert.
"That was unfortunate, but all in all it is of course a great day for our team. Philippe Gilbert today was our man," he added. "This was the dream scenario we had in mind. I myself had hoped for a podium. It's too bad, because I was enjoying my last race. For Roubaix, this does not change anything. I feel good. The season is still long."
Having crashed out of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on day one of his final classics campaign, Boonen was then ruled out of Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne the following day due to illness. He was back on track at E3 Harelbeke with sixth, and then eight at Gent-Wevelgem suggested he was approaching the denouement of his career precisely as planned. His form on Sunday at Flanders suggested as much, and while Boonen had ‘dreamed' of one final podium, the race could hardly have played out any better with Gilbert taking a fine solo win and Niki Terpstra on the podium in third place.
Up next is Wednesday's edition of Scheldeprijs which pays homage to Boonen, with the start on his hometown of Mol, while Sunday's 'queen of the classics' Paris-Roubaix will draw the curtain on a career that started back in 2000. Having finished second last year, Boonen will be aiming for his 114th and final victory.
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