Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) put up a brave defence of his E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke crown but came up short on Saturday, finishing a creditable but ultimately disappointing fourth. Pozzato had looked strong earlier in the race and when the peloton hit the decisive last 80 kilometres he was never far from the front on most of the climbs.
His loyal lieutenant for the day came in the form of Serguie Ivanov and the two national champions (Italy and Russia respectively) seemed like they were riding a tandem whenever the camera caught the pair. However Pozzato’s one and only mistake came on the Paterberg and it cost him the race. As Boonen launched what turned out to be the winning move the Italian was too far back to respond.
"I missed the attack by a split second,” he said at the finish. “I was a bit too far back and thought I'd get across if anyone had attacked. Unfortunately I judged it wrong.”
Pozzato turned on the turbo chargers soon after and went after Boonen, Juan Antonio Flecha and Fabian Cancellara. He was briefly joined by Sebastien Rosseler (Team RadioShack) who was a survivor from the day’s earlier break.
The Italian was clearly strong, reducing the gap from around 30 seconds to just 10 by the Tiegemberg, but with Rosseler dispatched and the trio in sight, Boonen was forced to react. The Belgian punched on the pedals, while Pozzato span a smaller gear and the gap stretched out again.
“They went really hard and when they knew that I was only a few seconds behind, they definitely didn't do anything to help me get on,” he said.
With less than 20 kilometres to go Pozzato was caught by a chase group containing three Rabobank riders, but he had the strength to claim fourth in a sprint. “I want to thank my team-mates because they raced really well; I was the one who made a mistake,” he said. “I hope to do better at the Tour of Flanders."