For the second year in a row, Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was denied victory at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke, when Fabian Cancellara escaped inside the final kilometre and snatch victory.
Boonen was responsible for the three-man selection that would decide the eventual podium and was confident of then winning the sprint. Cancellara and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) were the only two riders capable of matching his powerful acceleration on the Paterberg, 162 kilometres into the race. Although disappointed that he was not able to get onto Cancellara's wheel, Boonen said his performance in the final 40 kilometres of the race was a sign that he is still well on track for his major spring objectives.
"No, it's not the result I wanted, I like to win," Boonen said at the finish in Harelbeke. "My form is more than alright. The three strongest guys were in front, so win or lose it was close. That's a good sign."
"The team was fantastic today. They did everything that was expected of them and did the same sort of job as at Milan-San Remo."
A four-time winner of E3 Prijs, Boonen was denied victory in 2009, when Filippo Pozzato out-sprinted him in a one-on-one finish. This year, Pozzato finished fourth after he was unable to bridge across to the front group on the Oude Kwaremont. But Boonen refused to write off the Italian.
"Pozzato is definitely one of the big boys too," said Boonen, paying respect to his Italian rival. "But obviously it is better for me if he's not up the front. I'd made a big effort on the Paterberg and on the Kwaremont, Cancellara was saying 'Pipo is coming, Pipo is coming', I said 'give me two minutes, I need to recover'. But once we hit the Cote de Trieu (Knokteberg) Pozzato was out of it."
Boonen admitted to being surprised another of his Classics rivals, Thor Hushovd, had abandoned after just 14 kilometres.
"For sure, it's not good timing for him," said Boonen. "It's strange because at the start we were just chatting to each other and then five kilometres later he wasn't there. I heard he'd dropped out from Lars Boom."
Boonen will also start Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem, though was guarded about his expectations for the race he's won once, in 2004. "It's like every race, I'll just take it as it comes," he said.
Asked whether the podium on Saturday was likely to be the Paris-Roubaix podium in two weeks time, Boonen's reply was succinct, "It's possible," he said wryly.