Tom Boonen of Team Quick Step showed his stuff again on Sunday, winning the sprint of the fourth stage of the Eneco Tour in Ardooie, Belgium. The former world champion handily out-sprinted Kenny Van Hummel of Skil-Shimano and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Columbia. The leader's jersey went to Columbia's André Greipel, who had gone into the stage only one second behind Daniele Bennati of Liquigas. The German was in a long escape during the stage and gathered bonus seconds at the intermediate sprints.
It was Boonen's second stage win of the tour, having won the first stage. It was also hisn last stage win, as he will not take to the start on Monday. He will now leave the race to concentrate on his preparations for the Vuelta a España, which starts on the coming weekend.
Boasson Hagen opened the sprint with a surprise attack, and only Boonen and Van Hummel could go with him. "Just when I thought Boasson Hagen was hesitating too long, he raced past me," Boonen said. "It was a totally different sprint from the other days.
"With this I can go home with a good feeling," the 27 year-old continued. "My brother is celebrating his birthday so I will eat a piece of cake, have two days to rest and then pack my suitcase for the Vuelta."
Greipel's overall lead gives him his second leader's jersey in a ProTour race this year. He opened the season by winning the Tour Down Under, along the way winning four stages and the points jersey. He finished only 39th on Sunday, but in the same time as the winner. He won all three intermediate sprints during the stage to give himself enough bonus seconds to move into the lead. He had gone into the stage in second place, only four seconds behind Bennati. The Italian would have lost his jersey anyway, since he got caught when the peloton split and he lost 22 seconds.
Greipel was pleased to take over the lead but had no illusions about holding on to it until the end. He considered that he was simply holding it momentarily in favour of one of his team-mates, either Boasson Hagen, currently two seconds down in second place, or Michael Rogers, in eighth place only 15 seconds back.
"Our job now is to keep our two time trialers Boasson Hagen and Rogers near the front until the closing time trial in Mechelen," he said. "If I can stay as the leader until then, that's good. If not, then it's not important."
There were a number of crashes in the stage, and the most seriously injured was Fabio Baldato of Team Lampre. The 40 year-old broke a bone in his left shoulder – an abrupt end to a career which was scheduled to stop at the end of this season anyway.
The stage was marked by a long escape by Greipel, Maarten Wynants (Quick Step), Lars Bak (CSC-Saxo Bank), Frank Hoj (Cofidis), Maarten Tjallingii (Silence-Lotto) and Mirko Selvaggi (Cycle Collstrop). They maintained a lead of only about three minutes for much of the day and were caught only 10 kilometres before the finish line.
How It Unfolded
The race got off promptly at 11:15, and things went quickly. After 25 kilometres the peloton was clipping along at 55 km/hour.
The high speed prevented any breakaways for a long time, but that couldn't last forever. After 58 kilometres, a 14-man group formed -- Glenn D'Hollander (Silence-Lotto), Tom Leezer and Bram Tankink (Rabobank), Maarten Wynants (Quick Step), Koen De Kort and Aaron Kemps (Astana), André Greipel (Team Columbia), Markus Eichler (Team Milram), Frederik Willems (Liquigas), Borut Bozic (Cycle Collstrop), Yannick Talabardon (Crédit Agricole), Mickael Delage (Française Des Jeux), Lars Bak (Team CSC) and Olivier Bonnaire (Bouygues Telecom).
Only 11 kilometres later, three of those riders pulled away. Wynants, Greipel and Bak quickly picked up a lead on the others. Further back, the peloton had fallen into two groups. The trio was joined by Maarten Tjallingii of Silence-Lotto.
The foursome had built up a lead of 1.45 over the peloton. They were being chased by Frank Hoj of Cofidis and Mirko Selvaggi (Cycle Collstrop), who finally caught them.
The first intermediate sprint of the day went to Greipel ahead of Bak and Wynants. This gave the German three bonus seconds, which put him only one second behind race leader Daniele Bennati.
With 78 kilometres to go, the leaders went over the Kwaremont, with Bak leading the way. It was too much for Hoy, who fell back out of the group. The leaders had built up a lead of 2.45, and it stayed at around that mark.
Greipel picked up more bonus seconds at the Tiegemberg, giving him the lead over Gutierrez. Hoj was able to catch up with them again.
As the peloton came through Waregem, the was a crash. Michiell Elijzen (Rabobank) had to leave the race as a result. Glenn D'Hollander of Silence-Lotto went down, too, but was able to continue.
But the peloton stepped up the speed, and started bringing down the lead, which dropped rapidly,
At 29 km, there was a crash, with five or six riders going down. Most of them got up and kept going, except for Lampre's Fabio Baldato, who appeared to have injured his left arm. Also out of the race was Ag2r's Yuriy Krivtsov, who climbed into the ambulance holding his right hand.
Greipel also picked up the bonus points at the third intermediate sprint, building up his lead. The group's advantage over the field had by this time, with 24 km to go, dropped to one minute.
His group fought hard to stay ahead, but to no avail. The lead was only 27 seconds as they crossed the finish line for the first time and set off on the 15 km closing circuit.
J.J. Haedo (CSC) went back to the team car to get something with about 15 km to go, and on his way back to the peloton, he took a tumble into the ditch, and had to abandon.
Rabobank led the charge to track down the escapees. and with 10 km to go, they were caught. The next attacks came immediately, with Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), David Deroo (Skil Shimano) and Yoann Offredo (Française des Jeux) seeking their chance. They were never able to get more than a few seconds ahead, as Columbia led the pack in riding them down fairly quickly.
A Cofidis rider was the next to go, with a handful of other riders directly behind him. But also they were not really able to get away from the fast moving pack. Someone from Euskaltel was the next to try his luck, but this time it was Skil-Shimano who led the field in chasing him down. No sooner was he caught than a Crédit Agricole rider took off, looking to prevent yet another Eneco mass sprint. But he was no more successful than the others.
Sébastien Rosseler of Quick Step opened the sprint, He was quickly caught and passed by Tom Boonen, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia) and Kenny Van Hummel of Skil-Shimano, but the latter two had no chance against the former world Champion, who easily took his second stage win.
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