Cycling: Belgian Boonen gets classics campaign under way
Belgian star Tom Boonen claimed his first big spring classics win of the season at the Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne semi-classic here Sunday.The 2005 world champion, who rides for Quick Step, finished ahead of Columbia sprinter Bernhard Eisel of Austria and Britain's Jeremy Hunt, who was third in a bunch sprint for the line.
At Sunday's race, held over 194km, the 194-strong field stopped to pay tribute to stricken Belgian racer Frederiek Nolf, 21, who died in his sleep at the Tour of Qatar on February 5.
A few hundred metres after the start the peloton stopped briefly outside the house of Nolf's parents in Kuurne before getting the race under way.
After finishing a lowly 10th in the first semi-classic of the season, the Circuit Het Nieuwsblad (ex-Het Volk), on Saturday, Boonen made amends in style 24 hours later after some good work in the finale by new French teammate Sylvain Chavanel.
One of the pre-race favourites, emerging one-day rider Chavanel sacrificed his own victory chances by closing the gap to Juan Antonio Flecha of Rabobank after the Spaniard attacked inside the final three kilometres.
Once inside the final kilometre Boonen kept his cool and pulled ahead of Hunt to claim the win. A late surge by Eisel allowed him to finish second ahead of Cervelo Test team rider Hunt.
"The team were super strong today," said Boonen, who won this race in 2007. "Maarten Wijnants and Sylvain Chavanel worked really hard for me."
Recent Tour of Qatar winner Boonen said the win had given him an early season boost ahead of the tougher one-day classics like Milan-San Remo (March 21), and the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix in April.
"After this first weekend of classics racing in Belgium I feel I'm in far better form than I was at this time last year," added Boonen, who won Paris-Roubaix for the second time last year, won the Tour of Flanders in 2005 and 2006 and came third in Milan-San Remo in 2007.
"After some good racing at the Tirreno-Adriatico (March 11-17), I think I will be in perfect condition going into the big spring classics, starting with Milan-SanRemo".