Five-time E3 Harelbeke winner Tom Boonen had no luck in the semi-Classic: although the Omega Pharma-Quickstep rider finished the race in a respectable 11th place behind winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale), he did so in tears of pain because of an injury to his thumb caused by a crash mid-way through the race.
The focus of Belgium’s biggest cycling star has been off of cycling after his partner Lore suffered the miscarriage of their first child last week. Boonen skipped Milan-San Remo last Sunday, but then opted not to ruin his Spring classics campaign and got back on the bike.
On Wednesday, Boonen raced Dwars door Vlaanderen and finished in the peloton, but in Friday's E3 Harelbeke he appeared not to be riding at the top of his abilities. It turned out that Boonen had injured his thumb during a crash halfway into the race.
"I didn’t expect a lot. Wednesday wasn’t really good either. I had a really rough week," Boonen said after the race. "Forty-eight hours after Waregem you can’t expect miracles. My thumb is my major concern now. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s torn or strained. I rode all race long with tears in my eyes."
Most of the Spring classics feature several pavé sections in which the whole body but especially the hands get a serious beating. Boonen realized a hand injury is the last thing he needs ahead of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"It’s never good to ride over the cobbles when your hand hurts. I did 100km with a lot of pain. On the climbs there’s often a gutter so that was fine but on the cobbles it hurts a lot," Boonen said. "I managed to finish the race so I’m not panicking. Most of the times they’re able to do something with these kind of injuries but it’ll hurt a lot. It’s a bit swollen. It will probably be alright."
The television cameras didn’t register the crash, which happened just before the third climb of the day, La Houppe, near Flobecq. Race radio only announced that Svein Tuft abandoned. As it turned out Tom Boonen was one of the victims as well.
"There was a very big crash in front of the peloton, in about 20th position. Only Stijn [Vandenbergh], Iljo [Keisse] and Martin [Velits] made it through. We had to keep chasing until just after the Taaienberg. Then we were back in front but at that moment our race was already over because we had done an enormous effort to get back with two, three men.
"It was a long miserable day. It was a pursuit of about an hour. You have to get over the steep climbs and the tricky descents where you know you have to be in front. Team are always riding flat out to maintain their positions and we were riding in 80-100th position, trying to move up while taking huge risks."
During the 2014 edition of E3 Harelbeke there were a lot of crashes. At least six times riders were going down, sometimes only a few riders were included but two times large parts of the peloton were involved. Boonen figured the course had much to do with it.
"It went really hard so everybody was tired. Nobody’s giving half a metre to anybody else, so it was always on the limit, as soon as the race really started. The newly designed course mattered a lot, too. It’s true that there were a lot of climbs but the race wasn’t as open as other years. There’s no moment where the racing really starts because you wait for the Paterberg and the [Oude] Kwaremont. That makes it really nervous and then you get a lot of crashes. The speed was really high when riding towards the climbs but on them nothing happened. They kept the road closed and slowly headed for the top. Sometimes it’s interesting to give a race fewer climbs to make it more attractive."