Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) showed his classics rivals that he is at his very best just in time for the cobbled classics by snatching victory in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke with his trademark late attack.
Cancellara got away with Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) on the Paterberg climb, 42km from the finish. Boonen appeared to be the favourite to win the sprint but Cancellara attacked just before a tight left turn, with just over a kilometre to go. Flecha lost Cancellara’s wheel and eased up. Boonen gave it everything he had but was unable to close the gap.
Cancellara surged clear and had time to straighten his Swiss national champion’s jersey before celebrating his win. Boonen beat Flecha to take second place but was not happy with second place.
A fast start to the day
During the first hour of the race the peloton didn't allow any breakaways. The brisk 48 km/h average speed during the first hour was too high for Thor Hushovd, who pulled out after only 14 kilometres.
A large group of 24 riders eventually got away after more than 60 kilometres. Most teams had a man up front but still the peloton stayed in touch, allowing the group no more than two minutes before hitting the hills near Oudenaarde. Surprisingly the Basque adventurers from Euskaltel-Euskadi were setting the pace in the peloton for a while.
As a result of the continuous high speeds several crashes occurred as everybody tried to stay near the front on the hellingen. Nick Nuyens (Rabobank) and Andreas Klier (Cervélo TestTeam) were included in a serious crash, with the latter being forced to pull out.
After the first few climbs of La Houppe, Berg Stene and Boigneberg the Saxo Bank team took over control of the peloton and the gap on the leader's group dropped back to one minute. Sébastien Rosseler (RadioShack) increased the pace in the break on the Eikenberg and after the cobbled climb only six riders were left in front of the race: Rosseler, Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Kasper Klostergaard (Saxo Bank), Maxime Vantomme (Katusha), Stefan Van Dijk (Verandas Willems) and Steve Houanard (Skil-Shimano).
Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) led the peloton over the Eikenberg, working hard for his leader Fabian Cancellara. Rosseler created another selection when hammering over the cobbles of the Stationsberg, dropping Houanard and Van Dijk. The peloton was still in touch with the leaders, trailing by one minute.
Boonen pushes the pace
When approaching the Taaienberg - Boonen's berg - the Belgian champion was well-positioned near the front when two Rabobank riders went down in the top-10 of the peloton in a left-hand corner; once more Nuyens hit the deck forcing the Belgian to abandon. Tom Boonen blasted up the Taaienberg with Greg Van Avermaet (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) in pursuit but failing to stay on Boonen's wheel.
Near the top of the climb Boonen caught up with teammate Kevin Hulsmans and other riders who were gapped by the leaders. Team Sky brought the peloton back to Boonen, but the Belgian's efforts reduced the numbers in the peloton down to approximately 40 riders.
Though many riders managed to return to the Boonen group they probably realized winning would be very difficult on Saturday. Quick Step made the whole peloton suffer when approaching the steep Paterberg with Stijn Devolder and Sylvain Chavanel setting the pace. At 30 seconds from the four leaders, Boonen was delivered in pole position at the foot of the Paterberg, with teammate Maarten Wynants on his wheel.
Winning break goes clear
The Belgian champion powered up the climb in the gutter and Wynants forced the others to go over the cobbles if they wanted to join Boonen. Only Flecha (Sky) and Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) bridged up to Boonen and after joining Rosseler (RadioShack), Klostergaard (Saxo Bank), Vantomme (Katusha) and Tjallingii (Rabobank) there were seven leaders.
Klostergaard gave all he had left at the foot of the Oude Kwaremont for teammate Cancellara but just like the other former leaders he quickly got dropped on the famous climb.
Italian champion Filippo Pozzato clearly was the best of the rest launching a late counter-attack on the 2200m long cobbled climb. When arriving on the national road after the Kwaremont Cancellara, Boonen and Flecha had a small gap over Rosseler and Pozzato. The two were within touching distance but when Cancellara upped the tempo at the front the two chasers were unable to respond and soon found themselves 15 seconds back.
On the penultimate climb, the Knokteberg, Pozzato left Rosseler behind but joining the leaders was a bridge too far for the Italian champion. With still 25 kilometres to go Pozzato quickly lost time on the three leaders, trailing by more than half a minute.
The other five chasers were chasing at more than a minute from the leaders, three Rabobank riders and two Vacansoleil boys: Paul Martens, Lars Boom, Sebastian Langeveld for Rabobank and Marco Marcato and Bjorn Leukemans for Vacansoleil. The five chasers picked up Pozzato and with less than 20 kilometres to go the gap between the three leaders and the six chasers was 40 seconds; the remains of the peloton followed at two minutes.
Fighting against the wind, the three leaders headed back to Harelbeke and with 10 kilometres to go the six chasers hadn't taken anything back. With six kilometres to go the leaders lost time, showing that some were saving some energy for the finale; half a minute was left between the two groups.
Cancellara was the first to attack just before the last kilometre and the Swiss time trialing machine blew the opposition apart. Flecha tried to respond but failed to get on Cancellara's wheel. Boonen took over but he failed, too.
Cancellara soloed to the finish line, earning his first win at the E3-prijs Harelbeke. Boonen beat Flecha for second place while Pozzato won the sprint for fourth.
|1||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank||4:44:34|
|2||Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step||0:00:03|
|3||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|4||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha||0:00:50|
|5||Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank|
|6||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank|
|7||Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|8||Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank|
|9||Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team||0:00:58|
|10||Fabio Felline (Ita) Footon-Servetto||0:03:16|
|11||William Bonnet (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|12||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|13||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|14||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Quick Step|
|15||Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|16||Grégory Rast (Swi) Team Radioshack|
|17||David Garcia Da Pena (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia|
|18||Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|19||Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|20||Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|21||Frédéric Amorison (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|22||Yoann Offredo (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|23||Geert Verheyen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|24||Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|25||Pieter Ghyllebert (Bel) An Post - Sean Kelly|
|26||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|27||Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank|
|28||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step|
|29||Alexandre Pichot (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|30||Karsten Kroon (Ned) BMC Racing Team|
|31||Anders Lund (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|32||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|33||Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervélo TestTeam|
|34||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team Katusha|
|35||Julien Berard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|36||Jonas Aaen Jörgensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|37||Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank|
|38||Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank|
|39||Steve Houanard (Fra) Skil - Shimano|
|40||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step|
|41||Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Team Radioshack|
|42||Roger Hammond (GBr) Cervélo TestTeam|
|43||Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|44||Michael Barry (Can) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|45||Gustav Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank|
|46||Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|47||Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|48||Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|49||Steve Chainel (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|50||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|51||Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Team Radioshack|
|52||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step|
|53||Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Katusha|
|54||Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|55||Kasper Klostergaard Larsen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|56||Frank Hoj (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|57||Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|58||Gabriel Rasch (Nor) Cervélo TestTeam|
|59||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|60||Marco Bandiera (Ita) Team Katusha|
|61||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team|
|62||Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|63||Leif Hoste (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:03:24|
|64||Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack|
|65||Maxime Vantomme (Bel) Team Katusha||0:04:08|
|66||Koen Barbe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||0:09:04|
|67||Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet|
|68||Stijn Neirynck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|69||James Vanlandschoot (Bel) Verandas Willems|
|70||Stefan Van Dijk (Ned) Verandas Willems|
|71||Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|72||Mathieu Claude (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|73||Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|74||Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|75||Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Team Radioshack|
|76||Gorik Gardeyn (Bel) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|77||Francisco Jose Pacheco Torres (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia|
|78||Gustavo Dominguez Lemos (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia|
|79||Nico Sijmens (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|80||Kevin Ista (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|81||Romain Zingle (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|82||Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step|
|83||Maarten Neyens (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|84||Ermanno Capelli (Ita) Footon-Servetto|
|85||Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|86||Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|87||Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|88||Dario Andriotto (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|89||Alessandro Donati (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|90||Martin Mortensen (Den) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|91||Lorenzo Bernucci (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|92||Wouter Mol (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|93||Dominic Klemme (Ger) Team Saxo Bank|
|94||Yohann Gene (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|95||Anthony Ravard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|96||Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step|