OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Italians Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan were short of options to beat Tom Boonen in the Tour of Flanders Sunday. Pozzato failed with a sprint and Ballan failed with his multiple late attacks.
“Second place. What can I say? I’m the first of the idiots,” Pozzato said. “I’m not happy with it.”
Ballan (BMC Racing), the 2007 Flanders winner, attacked free on the third and final pass of the Oude Kwaremont, 17 kilometers from the finish. Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) closed down the gap to Ballan by the end of the flat cobbled section at the top of the climb, but when he looked around, he had Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in tow.
Boonen won the race in 2005 and 2006. Today, he took victory number three and matched the wins record held by Achiel Buysse, Fiorenzo Magni, Eric Leman and Johan Museeuw.
As the three riders ripped through a strong headwind toward the finish, a half-minute up on the chasing peloton, Pozzato and Ballan spoke in Italian, in fact in their local dialect as they are both from Veneto. They knew they would be better off without Boonen, who won E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem in the last week.
Winning his second Ronde wasn’t the only thing on Ballan’s mind, however. In the last week, he learned he might go on trial as part of a doping investigation and flew home from Belgium when his father-in-law died.
“Fifteen years after losing my own father. My whole family wanted me to do something today,” he said.
“I knew I was going well and during the week I concentrated to start as BMC’s leader. The last time up the Kwaremont, I wanted to take off solo, but at the top, I took Pippo and Boonen… I was hoping that Tom would fall off the pace, it would have been great to just have two Italians going into the final.”
The trio started the final Paterberg climb with 10 seconds. Boonen at one point seemed to be struggling, but at the top, he was still with his rivals.
“I was at my limit on the last time up Paterberg, there was no way of dropping him then,” Pozzato explained. “I had maybe three or four meters, but that’s it. I couldn’t continue to go with it like that.”
After the Paterberg, the trio shot downhill and faced nine kilometers on the flat.
“I told Alessandro, let’s get rid of Tom,” Pozzato added. “In fact, every time, I forced Tom to close the gap to Alessandro’s attacks.”
“It was useless for them to try with the headwind,” Boonen said afterwards. “Besides, I was not going to let them go. When Ballan went two or three times, I was on his wheel straight away and waiting for Pozzato to try.”
Boonen marked all three of Ballan’s attacks and sprinted clear of Pozzato.
“I tried to stay on Tom’s wheel until the last moment to save myself for the sprint,” Pozzato said. “When I came off his wheel, though, there was nothing I could do.”
In nearly 100 years, the race has only gone in favor of an Italian 10 times, Ballan being the last. With Boonen on top form — and benefitting from a friendly wind — Ballan and Pozzato simply weren’t capable of ticking the eleventh.