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Ballan blasts Hoste for monumental win

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Ballan can't believe

Ballan can't believe
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Leif Hoste

Leif Hoste
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé)
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The early breakaway

The early breakaway
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Not much room for error

Not much room for error
(Image credit: AFP)
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Paolo Bettini

Paolo Bettini
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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The final podium

The final podium
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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The world champion works for his team

The world champion works for his team
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan soloing on the Kappelmuur

Ballan soloing on the Kappelmuur
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Hoste gives a huge effort to bridge up to Ballan

Hoste gives a huge effort to bridge up to Ballan
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Boogerd and Boonen trying to chase the leaders

Boogerd and Boonen trying to chase the leaders
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Hoste fades in the final metres

Hoste fades in the final metres
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan came around Hoste who started the sprint a bit too early

Ballan came around Hoste who started the sprint a bit too early
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan can't believe he just won the Ronde

Ballan can't believe he just won the Ronde
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Overjoyed, Ballan give the salute

Overjoyed, Ballan give the salute
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Flowers for the winner

Flowers for the winner
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan hoists the trophy

Ballan hoists the trophy
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The final podium Hoste, Ballan and Paolini

The final podium Hoste, Ballan and Paolini
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan almost feels bad for Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto)

Ballan almost feels bad for Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto)
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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On the podium Ballan was jubilant

On the podium Ballan was jubilant
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan gets a big hug from his team-mates

Ballan gets a big hug from his team-mates
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Numero uno! Alessandro Ballan

Numero uno! Alessandro Ballan
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan takes a turn on the climb and has a sizeable gap

Ballan takes a turn on the climb and has a sizeable gap
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Ballan after the race

Alessandro Ballan after the race
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan makes his move

Ballan makes his move
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Boonen couldn't keep up with Ballan's attack on the Kappelmuur

Boonen couldn't keep up with Ballan's attack on the Kappelmuur
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Ballan leaves the rest behind

Alessandro Ballan leaves the rest behind
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan attacks the Kappelmuur

Ballan attacks the Kappelmuur
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen follows Boogerd up the climb

Tom Boonen follows Boogerd up the climb
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) gasps for oxygen

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) gasps for oxygen
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bettini couldn't close the gap for Boonen

Bettini couldn't close the gap for Boonen
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The roll-out from Brugge

The roll-out from Brugge
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The early breakaway

The early breakaway
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Bettini looks ahead on the climb

Paolo Bettini looks ahead on the climb
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen

Tom Boonen
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Boogerd and Van Petegem

Boogerd and Van Petegem
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolini and Ballan crest one of the early climbs

Paolini and Ballan crest one of the early climbs
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Pozzato looks calm - perhaps too calm.

Pozzato looks calm - perhaps too calm.
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Boonen gets no help from Oscar Freire

Boonen gets no help from Oscar Freire
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The crowds cheer on Ballan

The crowds cheer on Ballan
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Pozzato (Liquigas) on the Muur

Pozzato (Liquigas) on the Muur
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolini comes in ahead of Kroon and Gusev

Paolini comes in ahead of Kroon and Gusev
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Champagne for the podium boys

Champagne for the podium boys
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan rolls through sign-in in Brugge

Ballan rolls through sign-in in Brugge
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The peloton awaits the start

The peloton awaits the start
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A sea of riders heads through Brugge

A sea of riders heads through Brugge
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Leif Hoste was devastated

Leif Hoste was devastated
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Leif Hoste raising his hands to his head

Leif Hoste raising his hands to his head
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Lampre team happy that their efforts brought the win

The Lampre team happy that their efforts brought the win
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Lampre team have winner Ballan in their ranks

The Lampre team have winner Ballan in their ranks
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Björn Leukemans was strong today, but couldn't go after teammate Hoste

Björn Leukemans was strong today, but couldn't go after teammate Hoste
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Hoste throws his bike but it's too late

Hoste throws his bike but it's too late
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Ballan surprised himself by coming around Hoste just before the line

Ballan surprised himself by coming around Hoste just before the line
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Stuart O'Grady leads a bunch home

Stuart O'Grady leads a bunch home
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Hoste thinks hmmm… should have waited a bit later to sprint…

Hoste thinks hmmm… should have waited a bit later to sprint…
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Hoste with visible disappointment

Hoste with visible disappointment
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Ballan was triumphant

Ballan was triumphant
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Kisses for the winner

Kisses for the winner
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Spoils of victory

Spoils of victory
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Ballan's trophy

Ballan's trophy
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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The podium

The podium
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Ballan gives the thumbs up

Ballan gives the thumbs up
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Ballan attacks!

Ballan attacks!
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Bettini leads on the cobbles

Bettini leads on the cobbles
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Paolo Bettini leads the chase ahead of Boonen

Paolo Bettini leads the chase ahead of Boonen
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Nick Nuyens (Cofidis)

Nick Nuyens (Cofidis)
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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David Boucher (Landbouwkredit)

David Boucher (Landbouwkredit)
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Kevin Huslmans (Quickstep)

Kevin Huslmans (Quickstep)
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Stijn Devolder (Discovery) chases

Stijn Devolder (Discovery) chases
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Crowds atop the Muur van Geraardsbergen

Crowds atop the Muur van Geraardsbergen
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Laurent Mangel (AG2r) leads on the Molenberg

Laurent Mangel (AG2r) leads on the Molenberg
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Erik Zable and Paolo Bettini tucked in behind Steven De Jongh and a Rabobank rider

Erik Zable and Paolo Bettini tucked in behind Steven De Jongh and a Rabobank rider
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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The peloton passes over one of the cobbled sectors

The peloton passes over one of the cobbled sectors
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Filippo Pozatto on the Molenberg

Filippo Pozatto on the Molenberg
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Heinrich Haussler find the cobblestones an uncomfortable place to land

Heinrich Haussler find the cobblestones an uncomfortable place to land
(Image credit: AFP)
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Not much room for error

Not much room for error
(Image credit: AFP)
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Fabian Cancellara (CSC) followed by Gert Steegmans

Fabian Cancellara (CSC) followed by Gert Steegmans
(Image credit: AFP)

91st Ronde van Vlaanderen - PT

Belgium, April 8, 2007

ProTour standings

Italian Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) proved he belongs with the best in the Belgian Classics by winning the 91st Ronde van Vlaanderen. The 27 year-old attacked an elite field, including 2006 winner Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic), on the Muur of Geraardsbergen and was immediately joined by Belgian Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto), who he later out-sprinted on the line in Meerbeke.

The duo went full-gas and fairly traded pulls over the final 16 kilometres from the Muur. Ballan was forced to lead over the final kilometre, where the two went increasing slower while the chase closed in at only a few seconds. At 150 metres, Hoste opened up his sprint on Ballan's left, thinking he had enough to hold it to the line. But the 1.90m tall rider that usually leads out for Daniele Bennati kept on his rival's wheel, finally coming around in the last ten metres to steal glory.

Hoste finished second for the second year running while Ballan scored the first Italian win since Andrea Tafi in 2002. "The last kilometre was crazy," said the rider from Castelfranco Veneto after the finish. "I still don't believe that I did it!

"I did the attack on the Muur and did a huge pull all the way to the end; it went great. This course was really suited for me.

"Then, in the last kilometre, Hoste forced me to lead-out. I did not think that he would ever come around me. When he did pass me I just hooked on and... [huge smile - ed.] After the crash in GP Chiasso I have been building now I am able to be so strong. I will go into Paris-Roubaix with calmness." Liquigas' Luca Paolini finished third, just ahead of CSC's Karsten Kroon, while pre-race favourite Tom Boonen and his QuickStep team completely lost out on the winning move.

Hoste came so close to his first victory in Flanders but the finish was just a couple of metres too far for the Belgian. Right after he finished the he sat down and swore up a storm, louder and louder. "F***, verdomme, I feel so bad right now, not only for me but for the whole team," he explained. "They were doing an excellent job all day long.

"Many people were laughing with us but we were probably the strongest team in the race," Hoste continued. The Belgian wasn't mentioned too much as favourite for the race as he performed bad in the races leading up to Flanders. "I wasn't hiding or anything and there wasn't anything wrong with my form. I crashed twice - being injured on the same spot - in a short space of time, and it's no wonder I was faced with such a hard time."

How it unfolded

It was a wonderful day at the start in Brugge for the 91st Ronde van Vlaanderen. The riders and directeurs sportifs were commenting on the weather, and how it had been years since it had been so warm for De Ronde, near 18°C.

The riders faced 259 kilometres of riding before the finish in Meerbeke; winding their way south, towards Kortrijk, before heading east and onto the pavé and Hellingen ('climbs'). The second half of the race presented the riders with 18 climbs in 125 kilometres.

Right away there were attacks and it took only until kilometre 29 for the first move to form. A group of seven riders moved free, consisting of José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne), Enrico Franzoi (Lampre-Fondital), David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner), Maarten Tjallingii (Skil-Shimano), Laurent Mangel (Ag2r Prévoyance), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) and Evert Verbist (Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen).

Oleg Tinkov's boys of Team Tinkoff were particularly active and trying to join the move before it gained too much distance. Mikhail Ignatiev and Nikolai Trusov both gave a go but could not get on. The Belgian Champion, Niko Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen), also shot off the front but it was too late because the move had been formed. It lacked key teams Predictor, Quickstep and Rabobank but nonetheless it moved forward without too much difficulty.

The seven men worked their way south and by Gavere they had built up a lead of 13 minutes, the maximum they would see for the day. Behind, the peloton was allowing the escape to get its advantage, saving some energy for the latter half of the day. There was slight problem for Belgian favourite, Tom Boonen, he took a spill in Kortrijk but then quickly rejoined; he was reported with a sore right wrist.

By the first of 18 climbs, Molenberg, the seven men were down to 9'30" over the peloton. The chase was not being driven by any team in particular, but they were slowly closing the gap. Over the next three climbs, the Wolvenberg, Kluisberg and Knokteberg, the gap was further whittled away. The seven men, although working in harmony, now only had 6'42" in hand as they started the 1260 metre climb up Knokteberg. Spaniard Vicente Garcia led the way up the smooth, non-cobbled climb.

Behind, at kilometre 165, a crash involved Matti Breschel (Team CSC). The Dane rider was rolling around on the pavement for some time and had to abandon. This crash was followed by another when Renaud Dion (Ag2r Prévoyance) took a spill on the right had side of the road. There was yet another crash, involving Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Manuele Mori (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and Erik Zabel (Milram), but the race continued its march towards the Oude Kwaremont and left the German holding his left collarbone.

At this point, 80 kilometres to go, there was a noticeable building of speed in the peloton. T-Mobile, with help from Quickstep, was revving up the pace and had the whole group in one long line. The move put Marcus Burghardt in prime position to unload on the Oude Kwaremont.

The 23 year-old fired up the 2200 metre climb (averaging 4% gradient with 1600m of cobbles). His teammates setup his move and by the left-hand turn at the top the difference was made. Burghardt showed his form in recent races was no fluke and the weaker riders were being shot out the back.

The pace kept rising over the Paterberg, 20.3% maximum gradient and 360m long, and on to climb number seven, the Kortekeer. By the Kortekeer, the difference to the seven leaders was down to 3'58". This climb was the replacement for the near-by Koppenberg, which was deemed too dangerous due to the gaps between the cobbles.

The fact that Belgian's number one team, Quickstep, had missed putting a man in the day's escape was starting to become troublesome. The blue-men were moving to the front to start an offensive. After Steenbeekdries, 530m long and a dangerous descent, Sébastien Rosseler (Quickstep-Innergetic) pushed towards the Taaienberg for Boonen. The 2005 World Champ was finally coming forward to show himself. While Lorenzo Bernucci (T-Mobile) took a spill leading to the climb, compatriot Paolo Bettini was moving up.

The World Champ came to the front and did a huge pull for his Quickstep teammate; the orders must have been for him to work as a super-domestique to Boonen. Meanwhile, Quickstep's Peter Van Petegem was hurting and drifting off the back. The move by Bettini and Rosseler did not succeed in an escape but it helped eliminate further men.

Running towards the Eikenberg, Luca Paolini (Liquigas) lost it on a right hand bend. He was quick to get back up but his bike needed mechanical help, forcing him and a waiting teammate into a long chase.

Kevin Hulsmans (Quickstep-Innergetic) and Johan Van Summeren (Predictor-Lotto) darted off the front on the Eikenberg (61 km to go). The duo, representing Belgian's super-squads, spent about five kilometres away before being pulled back; a further attempt by the teams to put their men up the road and to ease the pressure, but the pressure only increased.

CSC's Fabian Cancellara starting hammering shortly after the Berendries and he forced the favourites to react. He split the field on an undulating cobbled section and winner of Three Days of De Panne stage three, Gert Steegmans (Quickstep-Innergetic) was sent to follow. The Belgian joined the Swiss man for a ride, as they closed the gap to the leaders ahead.

The duo joined the front men and quickly Cancellara went to the business-end and started driving the new escape, minus Vicente Garcia, who had been dropped in the warfare. The move proved Cancellara to be strong but he lacked the right mix of men to make it to the finish clear of the chase.

Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), Hulsmans, Van Summeren, Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto), Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital), Steegmans were part of a smaller move, which was chased by Bettini, Karsten Kroon (Team CSC) and Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux). But the moves all merged before the start of the Muur of Geraardsbergen, leaving 17 kilometres to go.

The front group went over the train tracks and it was immediately on the Muur, heading towards Moerbeke. The climb is nasty, with 475m of pavé and a maximum gradient of 19.8%, and was the perfect place for Ballan to stretch his legs. His teammate, Bennati, pushed forward with Boonen before Ballan rode clear.

2006 winner Boonen faded and left only Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto) to bridge up to Ballan. By the top, the two were flying on their way to victory. Kroon and Tomas Vaitkus (Discovery Channel) moved free to begin a chase but could not close on the two, who stayed about 15" ahead until the finish.

The Italian and Belgian traded equal pulls over the closing 10 kilometres. In the final 1500 metres there was a slight game of cat-n-mouse before Hoste opened the sprint that Ballan finished off.

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