"You have to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen solo"

By Jeff Jones in Ninove-Meerbeke For 24 year-old Tom Boonen, winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen was a...

Boonen comes of age as a classics rider

By Jeff Jones in Ninove-Meerbeke

For 24 year-old Tom Boonen, winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen was a career ambition achieved, and he did it in the best possible way. Last week, he was extremely impressive in winning the E3 Prijs in Harelbeke, where he beat Andreas Klier in a two man sprint after the pair had escaped with 60 km to go. On Sunday, April 3, he went one better: escaping on the Valkenberg with 32 km to go together with Andreas Klier and Peter Van Petegem, the trio caught Zabel, Ballan and Petito. They then destroyed the rest of the peloton on the run into Geraardsbergen, as Discovery and Rabobank missed the bus.

Boonen accelerated at the top of the final climb of the Bosberg, and only Van Petegem was really strong enough to hold his wheel. After the regrouping, Boonen attacked again and again, before finally getting away with 9 km to go for a magnificent solo effort into Ninove-Meerbeke. Although he gained 50 metres with his first jump, the chasers knew the danger and worked hard to bring him back. They couldn't, and Boonen won the Ronde.

"Until the last kilometre I was just fighting with myself, looking at my speedometer to gain as much speed as possible," said Boonen in the post-race press conference, and described his feelings in the finale. "There wasn't a lot of time to think. But in the last kilometre, I was sure I was going to win. Then it started to break through to me, to get through in my head. In the last 500 metres, it was a strange feeling. I thought I was going to be extremely happy, but I was just sitting on my bike. It was very strange. It wasn't like I was very happy, or just sitting there. I had a lot of emotions in my body but I couldn't tell what it was. And after the finish line it was just one big yell, and 'I won the Tour of Flanders'. I think I'm going to realise it tomorrow.

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