The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Tom Boonen will probably never become best friends. One day before the race, the Omega Pharma-Quickstep rider pointed out that it was the only race within his reach that is lacking on his impressive palmarès, despite 10 attempts. Luck evaded the Belgian yet again on Saturday, when he misjudged the finish and was out-sprinted on the line by Garmin-Barracuda's Sep Vanmarcke.
Before the final 200 meters, Boonen did everything right. After testing his legs on his usual spot – the Taaienberg with 59km to go – he made the main selection with other one-day specialists Thor Hushovd, Matti Breschel and Juan Antonio Flecha.
When Vanmarcke attacked the Molenberg 30 kilometers later and put in two accelerations on the pavé sections, Boonen was unflappable.
The final selection came down to Boonen, Flecha and Vanmarcke, and the former world champion, with a bag packed with bunch sprint victories including three in the past month, was the top favorite to nail down the win at the Omloop. Yet his day came unravelled in sight of the finish line.
"This morning I checked out the finish area, but still I fooled myself. I thought I started my sprint at the right time but when I launched my sprint I ran out of gas. The race was 50 meters too long," Boonen said on Sporza.
"I could've won. My form is good but I'm not in top form yet. Much respect for Sep Vanmarcke, though, because he was incredibly strong, I felt that on the cobbles of the Lange Munte. He made the right choice to peak towards this opening weekend – I think - while I aim to be better in a few weeks."
As the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is a 1.HC race there are no race radios allowed, which resulted in unpredictable racing. According to Boonen it influenced the racing action in his favor.
"Early on after our attack on the Taaienberg there was little info. For us in front it was easy. You ride full gas until you hear something. For the chasers it's different. If somebody got dropped then it takes about five minutes before they know about it and can react. It makes the races more exciting," Boonen said.
One of the riders who got dropped in the lead group was former world champion Thor Hushovd (BMC). "At the Taaienberg he was already on his limit. I also saw he was cutting corners. I wasn't surprised when he got dropped. In the final 10km the best was gone for me too.
"I knew I was good while this wasn't a major goal. I really wanted to win here. It wouldn't make sense to train so hard to finish as runner-up."
The day after the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the peloton receives a second chance at the 1.1 race Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, where sprinters often get the chance to put a semi-classic on their palmarès.
Boonen won the race already two times, in 2007 and 2009. "If you go flat out in the Omloop it's hard to be motivated for Kuurne," he warned before the weekend. With fast men like Mark Cavendish and André Greipel lining up in the "donkey town" Kuurne, it will not be easy for Boonen to claim top honors once again at this re-match.