The sun shines for the Swiss champion in Flanders

The skies may have been dark everywhere else in Belgium, but a ray of light shone on Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) as he rode to the victory in the Tour of Flanders. The world time trial champion showed his huge power advantage by dropping Tom Boonen (Quick Step) on the Kapelmuur climb and then riding away to glory with more than a minute's lead by the line.

Flashing his lucky charm for the camera as he pulled into Meerbeke en route to his the third Monument victory, the Swiss champion, who won Paris-Roubaix in 2006 and Milan-San Remo in 2008, had ample time to celebrate with team director Bjarne Riis and grab a Swiss flag from the fans to wave as he crossed the line.

Boonen and Cancellara broke free of the lead group on the Molenberg more than 40km before the finish, and thanks to a strong tailwind were able to distance a group of chasers which was whittled down to Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) by the top of the Kapelmuur.

Cancellara chose the steepest part of the climb to put in a bid to drop Boonen, and the effort was a success. By the famous chapel at the top of the climb in Geraardsbergen, the Swiss had a dozen seconds on the fading Belgian champion. With his world-renowned time trialing abilities, Cancellara steadily added time to his lead in the final 20km. Boonen came across the line, head bowed, in second place 1:14 later. Gilbert easily out-sprinted Leukemans to claim the final podium spot, while not far behind Americans Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) and George Hincapie (BMC) were fastest in the bunch sprint.

"It wasn't easy knowing I was the favourite but that was more of a weight on my shoulders in the build-up to the race rather than today," Cancellara said immediately after winning.

"I suppose it was a perfect race. Even my attacks were perfectly timed. Going on the Molenberg was the right moment and then I had to try on the Muur because that's where the legend and history of this race are made. When I realised I'd dropped Boonen it was like having wings on my feet and kept going all the way to the finish."

"Winning big races like this isn't easy and I have to thank my family and my team for the support they always give me. My next objective? There are still two monuments I haven't won…."

Boonen admitted that he was up against a tough rival today, but said things will be different next Sunday in Paris-Roubaix.

"Battling up against Fabian as a team is ideal. I'm already happy that I was able to keep up with him. I don't fear him. I've got a simple plan. If he goes I have to stay with him. You can't give him a few meters or he's gone," Boonen said after the race.

"Cancellara and I started co-operating without saying a word. It was a beautiful race. I liked the new course a lot. In the past riders were able to come back and attack, but now that was impossible. The Molenberg didn't make the difference. It's the part just before and after the Molenberg that makes it very hard."

It was Boonen's third runner-up finish after Milan-San Remo and the E3 Prijs, but the Belgian champion had a positive view on his latest result. "It makes me the best regular rider of the peloton."

A fast start from Brugge

The first attacks of the race were launched right after leaving Brugge. The first five riders to get a gap over the peloton were Michele Merlo, Nicolas Rousseau, Joost van Leijen, Floris Goesinnen, and veteran José Vicente Garcia Acosta. When arriving at the coast after half an hour of racing the five had a gap of one minute over the peloton. Three riders then made a counter-attack, with Olivier Bonnaire, Mikhail Ignatiev and natural attacker David Boucher setting off in pursuit of the five.

After sixty kilometres of early racing the three chasers bridged up with the leaders, creating an eight-man leader's group. The peloton let them go and were soon thirteen minutes behind them, with Quick Step, Team Sky, Saxo Bank and Astana all helped controlled the gap.

On the first climb called Den Ast, the gap had dropped below the ten minutes. The speed increased in the peloton as the roads were getting more technical and narrow. Several crashes occurred and ruined several riders' chances, although no favourites were included. However Lars Boom and Sergey Ivanov were caught behind and had to work hard to get back to the peloton, using a lot of energy to get back near the front of the peloton where Saxo Bank was driving the pace.

When the race reached the Kluisberg, the second climb of the day, the huge gap had fallen to just four minutes and the race between the big teams was on.

Saxo Bank controlled the peloton, with eight men on front of the peloton. Saxo Bank put the hammer down as the race headed towards the first real testing climb, the Oude Kwaremont. Again, the peloton split apart, with about hundred riders were in the first peloton that trailed the leaders by two minutes.

After the Oude Kwaremont there were only four leaders left from the early break: Van Leijen, Garcia Acosta, Goesinnen and Ignatiev. In the peloton Stuart O'Grady led the group at a steady pace over the 2200 metre-long cobbled stretch. Once again, the peloton reduced in number, with Stijn Devolder being the most important absentee.

The first selection on the Paterberg

On the Paterberg climb, with 80km to go, Matti Breschel upped the pace and this time the favorites had to move. Only nine men survived this selection, indicating what would happen later in the race. Breschel, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, Lars Boom, Juan Antonio Flecha, George Hincapie, Steve Chainel, Leif Hoste and Thor Hushovd were all there.

The rest of the peloton wasn't too far away and got back just before tackling the Koppenberg but then the pace went up yet again. Breschel and Boonen impressed on the famous cobbled climb. Cyclo-cross rider Chainel had to stop and put his foot down, blocking other riders and forcing him to run up the climb on the 22% part of the Koppenberg.

Up front Garcia Acosta got dropped and the three remaining leaders had about forty seconds on a leading peloton of about forty riders that also including Lance Armstrong. There was no organisation in the peloton and on climb eight, the Taaienberg, several riders managed to bridge back up to the first peloton, including Devolder and Sergey Ivanov. This was the quiet before the decisive attacks.

On the next climb, the Eikenberg, 60km kilometres from the finish, Team Sky closed the gap on Ignatiev, Goesinnen and Van Leijen. Behind the Saxo Bank team had a scare as both Cancellara and Breschel were forced to switch bikes. For Breschel the mechanic couldn't seem to find the right bike and the Danish champion lost a lot of time and was forced to chase amongst the long line of team cars. The problem definitely compromised his race.

The door swings open on the Molenberg

Due to the hesitations in the peloton Mathew Hayman sn