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Tom Boonen became the first rider to successfully defend the Tour of Flanders title since Eric Leman in 1973 when he beat compatriot Leif Hoste in a two-man sprint in Meerbeke this afternoon. The pair had broken clear of a leading group on the Valkenberg, 30km from the finish, and worked together until the closing couple of kilometres where Hoste sat in and saved himself for the sprint.
Sadly for the Discovery Channel rider, Quick Step sprinter Boonen still had plenty in his legs for the final dash up the incline to the finish of 'De Ronde', and won easily. As well as emulating Leman, Boonen also became the first rider since the great Eddy Merckx in 1975 to win Flanders in the world champion's rainbow colours.
"I was very strong today," said Boonen, who was strongly supported by his Quick Step team-mates. "I did what I aimed to do and what I wanted to do and no one could stop me."
Boonen admitted he had been surprised by Hoste's attack 100 metres from the top of the Valkenberg. "When I saw the gap that he got and that only Karsten Kroon had managed to hang on, I decided to ride 'a bloc' for a kilometre to drop the Dutchman. Behind us, Paolo Bettini did well to stop the pursuit. But if Leif hadn't attacked on the Valkenberg I had planned to do a little thing of my own on the Mur de Grammont."
Boonen also revealed that he and Hoste had spoken about the final sprint going into the final kilometre. "I told him that he could try whatever he wanted but I would still beat him. To win a sprint you have to be the strongest psychologically. I was exactly that. I was never afraid of losing the race, I was sure of myself. I must also thank my team-mates who did a fantastic job. I was the sole leader and they all had total confidence in me."
Boonen said he wanted to savour his success before thinking about his defence of next weekend's Paris-Roubaix, but did reveal that he and team-mate Filippo Pozzato would be sharing leadership duties in 'The Hell of the North'.
Third-placed Kroon said he was close to being able to hang on to Boonen and Hoste. If he had, he said, he would have taken a podium place. "When Boonen opened up right after the climb there were strong headwinds and it seemed like they had an advantage because of the motor bikes in front of them. I exploded and didn't have that last bit left in my legs to bridge up," Kroon explained. "It was a big shame because the whole thing had worked out perfectly for us up until then and I felt very strong. I would have liked to sit up front with Boonen and Hoste, but it wasn't meant to be this time."
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 259km in 6.24.26 (40.42kph)
2 Leif Hoste (Bel) Discovery Channel
3 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 1.17
4 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
5 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC
7 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step 1.50
8 Karsten Kroon (Hol) CSC
9 Andreas Klier (Ger) T-Mobile
10 Roberto Petito (Ita) Tenax
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 89
2 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre 70
3 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 52
4 Thomas Dekker (Hol) Rabobank 51
5 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step 50
6 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram 47
7 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 45
8 Patxi Vila (Spa) Lampre 43
9 Leif Hoste (Bel) Discovery Channel 42
10 Jrg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros 40
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