This year two riders had the chance to become the only rider with four wins in the Tour of Flanders. They were Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) and in-form Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo). Cancellara showed great form and was expected to await the final loop over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg to unleash his devils. Boonen showed much fewer glimpses of good form and he stated that he might go earlier than expected.
After taking a shower in the Etixx-QuickStep team bus in Oudenaarde, Boonen was able to laugh with his anticipation tactics as top favourite Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) attacked much earlier than expected and went on to win the race solo.
“I think the World champion anticipated perfectly, as so many riders wanted to do,” Boonen said, laughing. “He was really strong today. He was anticipating to win the race. It’s a moment where they often go there. We all expected something to happen there so we were attentive but they just rode away. The best riders were up front.”
Boonen went on to finish 15th at one minute from Sagan.
Long before the decisive moment where Sagan and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) went up the road at 34 kilometres from the finish the Etixx-QuickStep team tried to cause damage in the peloton with Tony Martin. The peloton split up into several groups but everything came back together.
“If you look at the wider picture we can’t complain," Boonen said. "We tried to make the race go our way. We weren’t hiding away. The other option was to keep waiting, trying to reach the finale with eight riders but what does it deliver. Everybody wants to anticipate but you have to make the race hard because you can’t ride away just like that. The peloton was split into six or seven groups. That was the moment to do something but we lacked the numbers to keep doing it.
"Obviously we were riding ourselves to pieces as well and we ran out of numbers. It was a bit too far to go myself. The race completely stopped and all groups came together. It was all to restart again as it usually does in the penultimate loop. Then it was a matter of waiting for the final Kwaremont.”
During that final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont Cancellara nearly bridged up to leaders Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke, whereas Boonen wasn’t a factor at all. For the 35-year-old Belgian rider it wasn’t a shame to say that the strongest rider wasn’t part of their team, the legendary QuickStep classics team.
“It was a spectacular race today," he said. "The downside [of making the race hard] is that you also make it hard for the other teams and in the finale you face in-form riders like Sagan. The way he rode up the Paterberg was a good showcase on how to ride a bike.”
Boonen is known to get along well with Sagan and he didn’t hide his admiration for the Slovakian rider. Ten years ago Boonen was able to win the Tour of Flanders as a World champion too.
“It’s a massive performance. It’s very nice to reach the finish solo as a World champion," Boonen said. "It’s a rider who put a step forward this year. He doesn’t win very often but he wins nice races. It’s someone I like a lot and it pleases me that he won today. I was surprised that Kwiatkowski parked the way he did. I really expected him to be a candidate for the win today. If you see how Peter finished it off solo then he’s the deserved winner.”
A big crash that occurred in the descent of the Hotond, shortly after the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont at just under 150 kilometres from the finish partly bothered Boonen’s race on Sunday. The biggest victim of that crash was Milano-San Remo winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ), who was forced to abandon the race. Also Geraint Thomas (Sky), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Dimension Data) were taken down by the crash.
“I hurt myself quite a lot, whole day long it bothered me on my wrist, my arm," Boonen said. "That was playing in my head. I’m not saying that otherwise I would’ve been able to follow them. Then again, it wasn’t easy. Hopefully I’m not bothered too much by my crash so the build-up towards Paris-Roubaix goes smooth.”
Paris-Roubaix is another Monument where Boonen can become sole record holder. It’s a race that suits him seemingly much more than De Ronde in recent years, and only one hour after the race Boonen was already switching his focus, remaining confident despite the lack of classics wins for the team this year.
“That’s a completely different race," he said. "We don’t have to race differently. We’ve got to keep doing what we do. We’re doing it well. One day an apple will fall of the tree and if it doesn’t happen then that’s that, at least we tried. It’s a race where team tactics can play out the most, our team especially. We’re not worried.”