Gent – Wevelgem: The Moment The Race Was Won

Tornado Tom Frits

Tom Boonen won the sprint to the line. As you can see from the image above he is level with the lime green Peter Sagan and the red and white Oscar Freire with 200m to go. But this was not the crucial moment of the race. Instead an acceleration 30km from the finish on the Monteberg climb made all the difference.

Just before, on the Kemmelberg the bunch was strung out thanks to a move by Rabobank’s Matti Breschel. Onto the Monteberg and the gaps were opening up. Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan prompted the move over the Kemmelberg and the Monteberg multiplied the difficulty. As they tried to escape and behind a larger group was forming in pursuit. This select group was noticeable for three reasons:

  • it contained many of the big names and contenders for the win
  • it didn’t contain sprinters like André Greipel, Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar
  • it had four Omega Pharma – Quickstep riders

Omega Pharma – Quickstep were able to drive the group away from a larger peloton with the sprinters in it. Aided by Katusha keen to set up Oscar Freire for the win, the group slowly pulled away as it hunted down Cancellara and Sagan.


The Swiss and Slovak national champions caught the remnants of the day’s early breakaway but having these riders on their back wheel seemed to cramp their style and anyway, Omega Pharma – Quickstep and Katusha were pushing hard.

Meanwhile back in the larger bunch, some 25 seconds behind Boonen’s group the chase was led by Sky. Ian Stannard and Matthew Hayman were working and if Stannard is sometimes worth two riders, it was not enough to close the gap. Many of the pure sprinters saw the race slip away.

Omega and Katusha worked and Sebastian Langeveld of Greenedge joined in, for the sake of Matthew Goss. But others were getting a sedan chair ride to the finish, including fast finishers like Edvald Boasson Hagen, Breschel, Sagan, Jose Joaquin Rojas and Daniele Bennati. But Bennati punctured with 10km to… but he still found the force to get back, thanks to some suspicious drafting of the Radioshack-Nissan team car.

The sprint
The finish line in Wevelgem is one very long straight and ideal for Tom Boonen. Once a contender for bunch sprints all the time, his style has been to start with a long sprint and to wind up a very large gear; no springing off someone’s wheel with 50 metres to go. Here he hit the front with 200m to go and nobody came past. For me the fact that he won a sprint from a group is no surprise given his recent form, the more impressive aspect is the way his team swarmed to the front at the right moment and helped to pull Boonen away from a larger bunch sprint. That’s why I think the Kemmelberg and Monteberg were more decisive than Boonen’s sprint.

Rojas down, Gilbert out
As the sprint went on Movistar’s Rojas crashed with several other riders. Also note Gilbert tried an attack in the race but this seemed like a weak move. If he was strong he would have waited for the right moment, instead here he just went away on a flat section and never got more than a few seconds. Luckily for him, Boonen’s success seems to be slowing the Belgian media from investigating and interrogating Gilbert’s over his poor form.

Perhaps this wasn’t a vintage edition; you probably wouldn’t buy the DVD highlights. Held under spring sunshine, the race only came alive in the last 30km. Yet Boonen takes his seventh win of the year and his third Gent-Wevelgem victory. With the E3 Harelbeke Prize on Friday, he has won two World Tour races in three days and is one of the sport’s all time best classics riders. So even if the race wasn’t perfect viewing, watching Tom Boonen join the greats is still special.

Indeed he is judged by such high standards in the Belgian media that his season will be defined by the next Sunday’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix the following weekend, celebrations this weekend are tempered by thoughts of next weekend. I don’t think he’ll have it so easy.

Tornando Tom Frits? Apparently the guy has a mobile kitchen selling french fries, frits in Dutch. The giant banners are a form of ambush marketing.

34 thoughts on “Gent – Wevelgem: The Moment The Race Was Won”

  1. It’s taken several seasons to see the real Tom Boonen again. The team has changed, and the quality has jumped several notches. There’s a 4 week block of racing which started with Dwars door Vlaanderen – E3 Prijs – Gent Wevelgem – De Panne – Ronde van Vlaanderen – Roubaix – Schelde Prijs, and it’s looking like some exciting races. I’m glad Tom Boonen’s winning

  2. It’s great to see Boonen win, and OPQ are really on the ball this spring. I wonder why Cancellara doesn’t try anything with 6 or 8 kms to go. Seems to me it should be his distance (today it was obvious that Bennati couldn’t win). And J.J. Rojas was very clumsy, he really needs some coaching by character sprinters à la Di Basco or Endrio Leoni. Van Avermaet is very good this season, but he seems jinxed.

  3. Rojas looked seriously irresponsible in the sprint today, jumping around riders and causing havoc. He needs to be taught a lesson so that he no longer endangers the safety of those around him.

  4. Bad move by RNT to have Gallopin give his wheel to Bennati, IMO. Bennati got back on, but he was spent. Gallopin could have sprinted fresh, and he has looked strong this season so far.

  5. There looked to be a backhanded punch thrown in the sprint just before the crash. Not sure, but it seemed to have been from Team Sky.
    I wonder if a bit of front wheel fighting after the finish might actually be “safer” than a punch at 70kmph? I think that more than the intended target came down here today.
    Any opinions INRNG? Commenters?

  6. I like Boonen. But it gets boring when the same guy is winning all of the time. Its a bit like those people who only want Tiger Woods to win the majors in golf and no one else. Yawn. Good for Tom, but a tinge same old same old. One of my favorites for entertainment is the 1997 Roubaix when Guesdon sprints high on the track passing the pack of usual suspects for the win.

  7. Boassan Hagan punched a rider who had twice (in rapid sucession) slammed into him! But then hey, when a bunch of riders all want to hog the right-hand side they need to accept the consequences, much like wanting to ride a train in Pakistan…you cant have the roof of the train all to yourself!
    Rojas was described by riders in last yrs TDF as a wreckless sprinter! I hope his crash today will serve him a cup of ‘wake up call’! Although, the last few litres havent helped!
    All in all though, it was a messy sprint, major chop suey!
    Great to see Matti Breschel back in form! Dont care what team he rides for, i like his style!
    Way to go, Tommeke bommeke!!!

  8. @andrewalpen – it looked like the Sky rider (EBH) had a spasm in his arm and that this spasm was contagious, having hit Marcato with it Matt Goss seemed to then pick it up and hit EBH having bounced off Breschal earlier. Goss didn’t even bother sprinting after that but EBH’s turn of speed was impressive. One of the messiest bunch sprints in a long time….maybe everyone has forgotten what to do now there is no HTC train….

    @Paul I – I agree – why does Bennati keep getting chances to sprint when clearly his days as a front line sprinter are over? I think Gallopin should be getting his wheel back and, as per andrewalpen’s suggestion, use it in the manner of Carlos Barredo on Bennati or the DS who decided he give his wheel up for that donkey (with apologies to Larry T.!)

  9. The two guys who hung on til the last 20km or so did a really good job. I always like it when breakaway companions shake hands just before they are caught, as it shows how noble and gentlemanly racing can be sometimes.
    I agree it gets boring when the same guy wins all the time, but when that same guy is Boonen I don’t mind at all. If he has the same year as Gilbert had last year I would be ecstatic. Should Cancellara win La Primavera at the end of this year I’d be really happy. If the WorldTour was an action movie then Cancellara would be the good guy. I get upset when he suffers misfortune during a race, and enjoy it greatly when he wins, because lets face it – he is the strongest rider today.
    I might not be the most astute judge of cycling, but from the replay it looked like Rojas was clearly to blame for the crash, however the cyclingnews article incorrectly cites the Saxo rider as the culprit. And you know Edvy B-H must have been frustrated to throw a punch.

  10. Really happy to see Boonen back in form and winning. He’s had a run of bad luck but has never complained or moaned (a certain Swiss rider should take notes). Tough SOB under an easy-going exterior. It seems that the influx of some of the HTC guys has paid off.

  11. Funny about the “suspicious” drafting by RadioShackNissan. I had the same suspicions after Cancellara’s crash in the E3. Perhaps they train that specific technique.

  12. Looked more like Rojas’ fault to me, as he seemed to have come further across. Seems funny that GreenEdge are on Cycling News complaining about punches when Matt Goss clearly pushes Boassan Hagen (who did also appear to hit someone). Looked like handbags anyway.

  13. It was interesting (sad? amusing?) to see Cav launch a solo attack in a bid to close the 1 minute lead to the front group. What was he thinking? He clearly wasn’t super strong. Maybe he was just angry or perhaps he hoped to bring a few riders with him. Seemed odd though and even more futile…

  14. While I’m happy Boonen is back to typical form, it seems to be at the expense of Gilbert. Last season it was sort of the reverse. I’m hoping for some real battles between the two before the spring is over. jkeltgv- I wouldn’t call Daniele Bennati a donkey, but since he cocked up the world’s last year doesn’t seem to be thought by many to have any chance at winning….and he’s proving it so far this season. He’s not nearly as strong as his Swiss teammate but doesn’t seen to have a sprint anymore either, so maybe instead of a donkey he’s merely a burro? I’m sure the animal experts here will correct me as to what a “junior” donkey actually is. 🙂

  15. Mark Cavendish ‘solo attack’ from the chasing group was nothing more than a petulant realisation that he’d blown another bike race.
    Thatks the second ‘target’ he’s publicly announced, where his inattention of poor form has cost him.
    The pressure will be building on him (whether self inlficted, or peers) to deliver race wins.

    Jumping away from a disinterested bunch, when his team mates were wasted (2nd time Hayman has been asked to bring him back to the front – MSR) was a public show, nothing more.
    He is used to his team ensuring he is hand delivered to the pointy end of a bike race, which usually works.
    When that doesn’t happen, from a mental perspective, he has to ‘validate’ his position (in the race at that moment) so by jumping away, he ‘shows’ the watching fans, and media, ‘look I’m strong but no one will work with me’ – you could see this from the tv, with him at the front of chasing group, postulating, etc. (*i don’t actually know if ‘postulating’ is the correct word, but i like it) .
    Could this be the season when his rivals finally understand that if you eliminate him before the finish, then he can’t win….. Or is it the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ ?

  16. The Radioshack drafting has gone well beyond what is acceptable. I firmly believe Fabian should have been disqualified from E3, so to Bennati yesterday.

  17. @ Flashing Pedals, you got it! This is exactly what GW was all about. Maybe Cav have become just too big star in the eyes of everybody else and is now being “regulated” by fellow riders and DS and this is why I love cycling. A highly overrated sprinter has no business in the classics – unless he can powerclimp, close gabs himself or suffer like a pig.

    Cav quote on twitter: Well #GentWevelgem didn’t go as planned. Comfortable over Kemmelberg twice, but wasn’t expecting someone in top25 to leave a gap on descent.

    Schoolboy error, Cav. Close the gab your self or close your Twitter account on a night like this – or stay on the track..

  18. Cavendish was close this time but all the more reason to celebrate Omega Quickstep who got so many men at the front and drove the group away from Cavendish and Sky. As for his “move”, it was surely pride messing with his head.

    Radioshack aren’t the only ones to benefit from the drafting technique but yesterday they got told off for it. I don’t know what the sanction was but this was so obvious that it can’t go unpunished.

  19. @ El Gato dLC – it’s an interesting perspective.
    Cav has been hand delivered to the race wins by a totally focused team, on him.
    Now he is part of a team where he cannot be the sole focus – to the same degree, he once enjoyed.

    Many years ago during the European Junior Road Champs, Cavendish was a favourite and he missed a break, and the chance to win the race. A gap went, and he remarked at the time to a cycling journalist “it’s not my job to close gaps, or chase them down” – he rightfully received some flak for that attitude, at that early stage of his career.

    Since his meteoric rise to sprint fame, he was expected by the team to do nothing more than ‘sit there and sprint’ which he did with devastating effect, time & time again.

    Now the terms have changed, the race expectations remain, and he is up against his former directors who are now working for rival teams.

  20. Other than excellent reporting, what makes INRNG so much better than Velonews is the quality of the comments. I don’t think it’s necassary to call a rider with 12 grand tour stage wins and a World Champ with 20 Tour wins a donkey and over-rated respectively.
    Both are excellent riders, but on this day and on this course they came up against a very strong Boonen with an exceptional supporting cast. There were only 22 riders in the lead group, so we can excuse Cav and the other 130 others for not making the selection, it is after all, easier said than done.

  21. I’ll agree with you Adam, the comments here are generally from those either with, or those who would like to have, a good knowledge of cycling rather than just fanboy rants. As to donkeys, it’s a case of the “what have you done lately?” so very often. There were plenty of those saying Boonen was washed up last year. I wouldn’t mind (except for not liking the team he’s on much) being wrong about Bennati – he’s Italian after all. Vai Daniele! 🙂

  22. @adam – you’re right about the comments on here. No doubt. My original Donkey reference was a sly dig at regular poster Larry T and referenced an earlier post of his on the Milano Sanremo story (and it probably shouldn’t get all “cliquey” in here either – another great thing about this site)

    At any rate the Donkey reference was actually directed at Bennati – so you can add “winner on the Champs Elysees and Giro points winner” to your list of people who shouldn’t be called “Donkey” (actually, pretty much anyone who gets paid to ride a push bike!). He is a handy rider as his set up of Fabian in Strade Bianche showed but he has lost his zip in a sprint and perhaps Gallopin should be given a chance sooner or later.

    Apologies again Adam.

  23. @El Gato de la Cala: With 20 TDW stage wins and a world championship, I would hardly describe Cavendish as “overrated”. Maybe you don´t like him, but he´s a great sprinter. Cavendish started the season well. He has stumbled a little lately but so have other sprinters. He´s adapting to new team etc. I think there is truth in the view that other teams are aggressively strategizing against Cavendish ; after all if these races are left to sprint finish he´ll probably win.

  24. @ desiertodelosleones I do not dislike Cav at all. I just happen to rank a win in a classic top spring race higher than 20 TDF “flat-stage-bunch-sprint-wins” and a World road race title on a course worse than 2002 Zolder, together. Cycling is not about numbers – it´s about winning big races in style. As Moreno Argentin used to say: “rather one day of greatness”.

  25. El Gato de La Cala, comments like yours show zero indication of just how hard it is to win ANY pro bike race and demonstrate no respect for the class these riders have. You forgot to remember Cav’s MSR, his three Scheldeprijs wins and his K-B-K this spring or that his stage 5 win in the TDF last year was hardly flat – Gilbert was 2nd that day.

  26. I think he is referring to the pink banner in the finish photo. Not too sure who “Tornado Tom Frits” is supposed to be.

  27. @El Gato de la Cala. Depends how you define or consider greatness, I suppose. One day of greatness or a career of greatness – which do you prefer? If Cavendish ever beats Eddie´s TDF record or grabs another green jersey, he´ll probably earn the right to be considered “great” by the vast majority. Oh, and as @Adam mentions, he has won some major one day races too. There a great climbers, TTers and sprinters. They all deserve our admiration

  28. @ Adam and @ desiertodelosleones lets not get carried away. As I pointed out I have no disrespect for Cav, Cipollini and the likes – and Adam, I do not think that ranking “classic top spring race” (not including MSR, Scheldeprijs, KBK or flat stages in major races) higher is an offense, nor is it showing zero indication of how hard it is to win pro races.

    Today’s Cav quote:
    “London is definitely not straightforward like Copenhagen where we could control the bunch. We’ve got less riders and the recovery time between climbing Box Hill nine times is short. Going up Box Hill once and even twice is not going to feel much of a climb. After four or five times it’ll bite. Doing it the ninth time, it’s going to feel like a mountain. But I’ve climbed mountains before. It’s a good course for us.”

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