Tom Boonen took a commanding win in the 62nd Dwars door Vlaanderen Wednesday thereby ending lingering questions about his form and his health, particularly concerns about his back. Boonen's victory came on the heels of a near-miss in Milano-Sanremo and no stage victories in the recent Paris-Nice.
Two early breaks, one long solo one with David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) and a later one with Matthé Pronk (Unibet.com) and Wim Vansevenant (Predictor-Lotto) characterized much of the stage, but Quick-Step was clearly lined out and working to control the day for Boonen.
The later duo was brought back to terms with the aid of Liquigas. The Italian team had three men in the thinning front group, including Enrico Gasparotto, Murilo Fischer and Roberto Petito. Gasparotto was most active, leaving Brazilian Fischer to save himself for the sprint.
A final move with six riders launched with 48km to go, but a lack of cooperation within the group doomed it to failure when chased by Quick-Step and Team CSC. After 200km of racing, a field sprint ended the contest.
The front group was more or less back together near the end and was set for an O'Grady versus Boonen showdown. The Quick-Step men steamrolled to the finish and left Boonen to open his sprint on the heels of fellow Belgian Nico 'Rambo' Eeckhout. The former World Champion easily succeeded and crossed the line pointing at his Specialized machine, a new bike which had been recently developed for the big sprinter.
As reported Monday, Boonen's new custom-built bike was aimed at improving the back problems he has suffered for four years. Quick-Step's team director 'Fitte' Peeters had told Sportwereld. "Tom's back problems started in Gent-Wevelgem four years ago, when he crashed into a photographer. It remains a delicate issue, but we have it under control." Boonen's new bike is 13mm longer than his old one.
Today, Boonen proved that his back problems are indeed under control. He told L'Equipe, "I am very content but especially I am obviously reassured on my condition and on the state of my back. The form is there. And it is the case for all the racers of the team. It is really very reassuring to be able to count on such teammates." Look out for Boonen and the rest of his Quick-Step team at the coming Spring Classics.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.