Tom Boonen wins the Only Man With A Prayer Of Beating Cancellara race. Generally and usually referred to by its traditional name, Gent Wevelgem.
The Belgian took the victory in style and like Cancellara in E3, showed not only his strength but willpower and calm. A mechanical problem at the base of the Catsberg forced him to chase back but he still had enough in his legs to out-sprint Mr. Second Place Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) and in-form Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo). These two guys must be getting frustrated with the almosts.
A dangerous breakaway almost stole the show, making it inside the final kilometer. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Ian Stannard (Sky) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas) broke away with 35 clicks to go and it was Stannard who fought until the last 150 meters before he was swamped. A brave show and also a terrific ride by the young Slovenian Sagan.
The battling Buddhist Farrar opened the sprint but Boonen took at perfect lead-out from Gert Steegmans and timed his sprint to perfection. That put a big smile on his face and lifted some of the pressure off his shoulders heading into Flanders next week.
For the rest, it was disappointment, missed opportunities, bad luck and mediocre legs. Mark Cavendish continued his impressive run of bad luck with a puncture and crash. He’s getting disgusted and it showed.
Philippe Gilbert made an attack on the Kemmelberg but was marked and didn’t appear to have the strength to impose his will. Nick Nuyens (Saxo) took his shot but BMC shut him down. Thor Hushovd was working for Farrar and tired from yesterday’s E3. Andre Greipel was apparently in the race but generally unseen.
Rolf Aldag of HTC-Highroad probably had the best take on the race even before Gent Wevelgem started. “The biggest and most important thing is that we don’t lose control of the race. If we’re in a situation where we have to chase, then it’s not going to be funny anymore,” said Aldag. It wasn’t funny for many riders on Sunday, Cavendish in particular.
Boonen, however, enjoyed his day of work on the cobbles of Belgium. “I wasn’t really expecting it,” Boonen said at the finish. “In the last few years, Gent-Wevelgem was off my list, but because of certain reasons it came back on and I’ve won it for the second time. So of course it’s a surprise and I’m also very happy.”
Tornado Tom now has a week to solve a problem nobody else has figured out: how to beat Fabian Cancellara. It’s a tall order for anybody right now and even Boonen admits he still needs that last 5% of form to be at his killer best.
In fact, murder or a contract killing is so far the best idea anybody has had for dealing with last year’s winner of both Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Garmin-Cervelo’s Jonathan Vaughters joked that the only hope was to hire a sniper.
“Fabian won on Saturday and is in great shape but I’ve won today and my form is getting better and better after being illness slowed me before Milan-San Remo,” said Boonen. “I’m ready for the Tour of Flanders.” By golly, let’s hope so.