Tom Boonen and Omega Pharma-QuickStep's remarkable winning streak may have been interrupted at on Wednesday, but the Belgian delivered an ominous message to his Paris-Roubaix rivals with a significant show of force in the final 50 kilometres of Wednesday's Scheldeprijs.
Managing one's reserves in the week between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix is often a delicate balancing act, and many of the main contenders for Roubaix glory opted not to line up for Scheldeprijs. After two days of recovery from his Flanders victory on Sunday, however, Boonen was determined to give his legs a midweek test ahead of the Hell of the North.
Boonen's long surge the first time through the cobbles at Broekstraat strung out the peloton, and the former world champion was a constant presence at the head of affairs until the closing stages of the races. His efforts and those of his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team succeeded in significantly whittling down the bunch, but as the heavens opened on the final lap of the finishing circuit in Schoten, Boonen opted to relent rather than risk compromising his Roubaix challenge.
"I took it easy in the first part of the race," Boonen said. "Then I worked for the team but when it began to rain, I went in the back of the peloton to avoid problems. I didn't take risks even in the final because with the rain it was dangerous. The road was really slippery, but I'm happy about my day."
After Niki Terpstra won Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Sylvain Chavanel took the Three Days of De Panne and Boonen himself carried off the Tour of Flanders, E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, Omega Pharma-QuickStep's startling string of recent victories in Belgium – a stark contrast with their showing on home roads this time twelve months ago – finally came to an end at Scheldeprijs.
Francesco Chicchi was the man charged with leading their challenge in Schoten, but when a crash forced the Italian sprinter onto the verge on the final lap of the finishing circuit, he was eliminated from contention.
"I had to ride on the grass on the side of the road to avoid the riders lying on the ground. It's a pity, because I lost a good chance," Chicchi said.
Ultimately, however, Matteo Trentin was the only Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider to make the final 35-rider split, which formed after a crash with two kilometres to go. The Italian neo-professional came across the line in 11th place behind winner Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano).
Trentin was also caught up in the crashes that occurred on the rain-soaked zebra crossing after the finish line, but he emerged without serious injury. "Fortunately, it's nothing serious," he said. "After the finish, the guys in front of me hit their brakes and I did it too. I slipped on the ground, but nothing serious."