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Tom Boonen claimed the Belgian national title in Aywaille, Belgium, on Sunday. It was an emotional win for the Quick Step star in his eighth attempt at winning the race.
"Today I wasn't among the top favourites, and I knew that in order to win a race like this one I had to be having a great day and not make any mistakes. I did it," Boonen said after his win.
Boonen overcame pre-race favourite and local hero, Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto), at the finish line. The hilly race in the Walloon region of Belgium had been expected to suit the versatile Gilbert. However, Quick Step was able to control the race, giving Boonen the opportunity to win the sprint finish and claim his first Belgian championship.
“Of course I am slightly disappointed,” Gilbert told Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad after finishing second. “[But] I have not done badly and was beaten by one of the best sprinters in the world.”
Quick Step’s preparation for the championships had been disrupted by the drama surrounding Boonen’s on-again-off-again participation in this year’s Tour de France. Team manager Patrick Lefevere was impressed by the team’s attitude to the race.
“The team was under pressure the last couple of weeks and I think they’re acting like real professionals,” Lefevere told Cyclingnews.
Boonen is expected to find out on Tuesday whether he will have the opportunity to display his newly acquired Belgian jersey at the Tour de France. A French civil court in Nanterre will hand down a ruling that will decide whether or not the former world champion will be allowed to take the start on July 4.