Belgium's Tom Boonen won the Tour of Flanders for the third time yesterday, beating Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan in a three-way sprint.
On the penultimate climb, the three broke away with 18 kilometres to go in the day-long race. In an open sprint to the line, Boonen held a bike-length margin over Pozzato for his first Tour of Flanders win since 2006. Crashes marked the final stages of the classic with the favourite, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara, the biggest victim. Initial media reports said he had broken his collarbone.
Boonen had been the man in form, with victories in two other Belgian classics in the past two weeks – the E3 and Gent-Wevelgem races. "The two scared me in the finale; they know each other well," he said of the two Italians.
Ballan tried to escape twice in the final stages; each time it was Boonen who closed the gap. Against the fast Pozzato, Boonen had enough reserves, finishing the 256km race in 6hr.04.03min. The Belgian Greg van Avermaet finished fourth, 38 seconds behind, beating Peter Sagan of Slovakia, the Dutchman Niki Terpstra and Italian Luca Paolini.
There was a new finish that included three climbs on the two toughest hills dotted along a circuit cut through northern Belgium. With 61km to go, Cancellara crashed in the middle of the pack during a chaotic stretch in which the riders got their last food. Cancellara lay on the asphalt for a long time. "It is too bad, it would have been so much better with him there too," said Boonen.
Cancellara won in 2010 and was third last year. With 40km to go, Sebastian Langeveld crashed into a spectator on a downhill stretch and was also out of the chase for victory.
The riders move to northern France for Paris-Roubaix next Sunday, the cobblestone classic that Boonen has won three times. "It is my favourite race," he said.