Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen won the 71st edition of the 203km Ghent-Wevelgem cycling road race on Wednesday at his first attempt.
The 21-year-old out-paced Aleksandr Kuschynski of Belarus in a sprint finish, with Matthew Goss (Saxo Bank) claiming third place ahead of Australian compatriot Mathew Hayman (Rabobank).
"I was feeling strong," smiled the Norwegian when asked about his decision to launch his burst for the line with 300 metres to go.
Boasson Hagen becomes only the second Norwegian to win the race after his compatriot Thor Hushovd in 2006. The highly regarded youngster, who rides for Columbia, first came to prominence during the 2006 season when he won three stages of the French amateur road race the Tour of the Future.
His team-mate Mark Cavendish - winner of the Milan to San Remo one day race last month - was among the favourites for the race, but fell out of contention within the first hour. The Isle of Man sprint specialist was left isolated in the race's early stages when a group of 30 riders - including four of his team-mates - broke away from the peloton.
Cavendish rescued a measure of pride by leading the peloton over the two ascents of the cobbled Kemmelberg climb, but with 35km of the race remaining he was almost four minutes off the pace.
A group of 14 riders had formed a breakaway from the leading pack with 50km to go, before Kuschynski (Liquigas) made the first solo break following the second ascent of the Kemmelberg. Kuschynski was quickly pursued by Boasson Hagen, with the pair opening up a lead of over a minute prior to the flat run-in to the finish.
Goss, Hayman and Germany's Andreas Klier (Cervelo) launched a tentative counter-attack 15km from home but left themselves with too much to do.
In heavy drizzle the mud-splattered pair of Kuschynski and Boasson Hagen fought it out down the final stretch, before Boasson Hagen exploited a moment of hesitancy from the Belarussian to dash away from him and claim victory.
The victor acknowledged that he was helped by the fact he rides for a team well-equipped for success in the classics.
"It was easy for us in the (leading) group," he said. "Cavendish was behind us and we didn't really have to work. We were able to keep fresh for longer."
Asked about his next race, Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, Boasson Hagen expressed his delight at the prospect of competing in one of cycling's 'monuments'.
"It's something else!" he said. "I've never competed in it, even as a youngster. I'm excited about the idea of going there. I just hope I finish."
© AFP 2009
|1 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor|Columbia-Highroad)||5:00:15|
|2 Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr|Liquigas)|
|3 Matthew Goss (Aus|Saxo Bank)||0:00:53|
|4 Mathew Hayman (Aus|Rabobank)|
|5 Andreas Klier (Ger|Cervélo TestTeam)||0:00:57|
|6 Koldo Fernández (Spa|Euskaltel-Euskadi)||0:01:49|
|7 Marcus Burghardt (Ger|Columbia-Highroad)||0:02:14|
|8 Tom Leezer (Ned|Rabobank)|
|9 Manuel Quinziato (Ita|Liquigas)|
|10 Jeremy Hunt (GBr|Cervélo TestTeam)|
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.