Danish champion Matti Breschel scored an important victory for his Saxo Bank team, riding away solo from a group of favourites including Quick Step's Tom Boonen and then holding off the chase to the line.
The 25-year-old underscored the significance of the win even though the race is a relatively minor event compared to the upcoming Spring Classics.
"To me, it's very important and for the team also. We only have a few wins this season, and the Classics have started. For me and for the team, we needed this for the morale."
Breschel was part of an elite group which brought back two escape groups after the cluster of climbs which came inside the final 40km. With teammate Fabian Cancellara and previous escapee Anders Lund to help, the Saxo Bank team had a decided advantage over Quick Step who had only Boonen and Maarten Wynants.
Their group had 25 seconds over a larger chasing peloton, and Breschel slipped away off the front on the Tiegemberg while the rest of the riders played cat and mouse, with few riders willing or able to work.
"We knew that we had to stay in front there, and we knew that it was me and Fabian - and then Fabian came to me and said he'd do this for me, just sit on my wheel. I didn't really attack, just went easy away, and I got the gap."
Once clear, Breschel faced a strong challenge from the attacking Frenchman Steve Chainel (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) who had been a frequent aggressor. He pulled away Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) and Niki Terpsra (Milram), but the trio could not close the gap to the flying Dane.
"I was dying at the end, had a little cramping, but I had Torsten [Schmidt, sports director] on the radio and he gave me the confidence to believe I could go all the way. . I tried as hard as possible, and yeah - I won!"
Breschel will be a strong ally for Cancellara, who will be the team's undisputed captain for the Classics. He has no problem being a back-up to his Swiss teammate. "There's no problem at all - we're good friends, and we communicate well. It's always good to have more than one card on hand - that's how you win races nowadays as long as you're loyal to each other."
How it unfolded
The 65th running of the Dwars door Vlaanderen set off under decidedly improved weather conditions over the last Belgian races. During the rapid first 120km, the peloton stayed mostly together, saving its energies for the bergs which would pepper the last half of the course.
The first of the climbs, the Kattenberg, came at kilometre 108 and did not force any selections, but by the Berendries with 78km to go, a group of four managed to wrestle themselves clear of the bunch.
Gregory Habeaux (Verandas Willems), Jean Zen (Palmans-Cras), Steven Van Vooren (Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator) and Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) would stay clear for 50 kilometres over some of the toughest terrain that Flanders has to offer.
Their demise began when attacks from the peloton started with RadioShack's Markel Irizar and Andy Cappelle (Verandas Willems) with 51km to go. The attack did not last, but it provided a launching pad for Bbox Bouygues Telecom's Chainel to counter .
The attack pulled away a large group while most of the favourites decided to sit out the move and wait for the cluster of climbs which came with 40km to go to make a selection.
The group ahead was too big to stay away, although they managed to pull out a minute or so over the group with Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara over the coming kilometres.
The Oude Kwaremont at 35km to go provided a major selection across the board: it split the lead group, with Van Vooren and Mondory dropping Zen and Habeaux for good, while behind both the large chase group and the peloton fractured on the cobbled berg. With two more climbs in the next two kilometres, the action began to intensify.
After the Patersberg the chase group was down to just eight riders: William Bonnet and Chainel (Bbox), Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil), Niki Terpstra (Milram), Anders Lund (Saxo Bank), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Fabio Felline (Footon Servetto) and Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
The climbs had also split up the peloton behind, leaving a group of just 28 riders chasing the two groups ahead.
Fabian Cancellara set a brisk tempo to pull the groups together as the roads leveled out, succeeding in bringing back both the group of eight and the two leaders up the road. But the Swiss champion wasn't happy with the work that the rest of the group was contributing as he tried to keep them clear of the chasing peloton.
With 23km to go, Cancellara sat up to scold his companions for failing to work, and while he lectured them his teammate Matti Breschel slowly rode off the front in a bit of a gamble: the team was clearly saving him for the sprint, but he didn't fancy his chances against the likes of Boonen.
He quickly built up a lead of 20 seconds as the group argued over who should work. Chainel was having none of it and attacked to go after the Danish champion.
Niki Terpstra and Bjorn Leukemans also went after him, but neither would see the Dane before the finish line. The chasing peloton nearly caught the three chasers just before the line, but Breschel was still a few seconds clear and was able to celebrate his victory with a long two-armed salute.
Leukemans was able to nip in ahead of Terpstra to take second on the day, and Chainel held on to finish fourth.
|1||Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank||4:49:37|
|2||Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team||0:00:07|
|3||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team Milram|
|4||Steve Chainel (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|5||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|6||Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|7||Wouter Mol (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|8||Tom Veelers (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|9||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team Katusha|
|10||William Bonnet (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|11||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|12||Nick Nuyens (Bel) Rabobank|
|13||Roger Hammond (GBr) Cervélo TestTeam|
|14||Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervélo TestTeam|
|15||Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|16||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank|
|17||Anthony Geslin (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|18||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|19||Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|20||Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step|
|21||Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Team HTC - Columbia|
|22||Koen De Kort (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|23||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|24||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank|
|25||Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Team Radioshack|
|26||Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervélo TestTeam||0:00:18|
|27||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team||0:00:24|
|28||Fabio Felline (Ita) Footon-Servetto||0:00:52|
|29||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:00|
|30||Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Team Radioshack|
|31||Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack|
|32||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|33||Gert Dockx (Bel) Team HTC - Columbia|
|34||Frantisek Rabon (Cze) Team HTC - Columbia|
|35||Gustav Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank|
|36||Frank Hoj (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|37||Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|38||Thomas Fothen (Ger) Team Milram||0:01:22|
|39||Koen Barbe (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|40||Romain Zingle (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|41||Anders Lund (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|42||Steven Van Vooren (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|43||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Quick Step|
|44||Stefan Van Dijk (Ned) Verandas Willems||0:04:22|
|45||Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|46||Anthony Ravard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|47||Giuseppe Palumbo (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|48||Martin Reimer (Ger) Cervélo TestTeam|
|49||Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha|
|50||Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Team Radioshack|
|51||Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|52||David Garcia Da Pena (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia|
|53||Rasmus Guldhammer (Den) Team HTC - Columbia|
|54||Egidijus Juodvalkis (Ltu) Palmans - Cras|
|55||Wim De Vocht (Bel) Team Milram|
|56||Roy Sentjens (Bel) Team Milram|
|57||Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Team Radioshack|
|58||Mitchell Docker (Aus) Skil - Shimano|
|59||Andy Cappelle (Bel) Verandas Willems|
|60||Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|61||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia|
|62||Markus Eichler (Ger) Team Milram|
|63||Peter Wrolich (Aut) Team Milram|
|64||Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|65||Nikolas Maes (Bel) Quick Step|
|66||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step|
|67||Frédéric Amorison (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|68||Alessandro Fantini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|69||Gabriel Rasch (Nor) Cervélo TestTeam|
|70||Alexandre Pichot (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|71||Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|72||Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Rabobank|
|73||Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|74||Mathieu Claude (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|75||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|76||Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|77||Pieter Ghyllebert (Bel) An Post - Sean Kelly|
|78||Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|79||Ben Hermans (Bel) Team Radioshack|
|80||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step|
|81||Jos Van Emden (Ned) Rabobank|
|82||Jan Ghyselinck (Bel) Team HTC - Columbia|
|83||Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|84||Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step|
|85||Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank|
|86||Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank|
|87||Leif Hoste (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|88||Thomas Leezer (Ned) Rabobank|
|89||Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank|
|90||Tristan Valentin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|91||Greg Henderson (NZl) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|92||Christopher Sutton (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|93||Dominique Rollin (Can) Cervélo TestTeam|
|94||Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|95||Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|96||Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukr) Team Katusha|
|97||Grégory Rast (Swi) Team Radioshack|
|98||Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia|
|99||Kasper Klostergaard Larsen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|100||Dominic Klemme (Ger) Team Saxo Bank|
|101||Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:07:40|
|102||Roy Curvers (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|103||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|104||Nico Sijmens (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|105||Vidal Celis Zabala (Spa) Footon-Servetto||0:08:11|
|106||Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|107||Gustavo Dominguez Lemos (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia|
|108||Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Française Des Jeux|
|109||Baden Cooke (Aus) Team Saxo Bank|
|110||Iban Mayoz Echeverria (Spa) Footon-Servetto||0:09:15|
|111||Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|112||Francisco Jose Pacheco Torres (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia|
|113||Hayden Roulston (NZl) Team HTC - Columbia|
|114||Maxime Vantomme (Bel) Team Katusha|
|115||Servais Knaven (Ned) Team Milram|
|116||Yohann Gene (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom|
|117||Gustavo Rodriguez Iglesias (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia|
|118||James Vanlandschoot (Bel) Verandas Willems|
|119||Tom Van Becelaere (Bel) Palmans - Cras|
|120||Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|121||Olivier Kaisen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|122||Fuyu Li (Chn) Team Radioshack|
|123||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale|
|124||Gregory Habeaux (Bel) Verandas Willems|
|125||Kevin Ista (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|126||Reinier Honig (Ned) Acqua & Sapone|