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After pulling out of the final day of the Three Days of De Panne, defending Tour of Flanders champion Tom Boonen admitted he was suffering from a slight cold that he did not want to aggravate in poor weather conditions. The Belgian, though, insisted his form was at least as good as last year. "I am in better condition than last year in the same period, I simply pulled out of De Panne because I didn't want to take a risk with Sunday in mind," admitted the world champion.
"Last year I fell at De Panne and injured my hand. This year I will be taking part in the Ronde without the slightest health problem. Our team is very strong, perhaps stronger than it was last year, but as usual the competition is very strong too. I just hope that the weather is nice and dry so that the risk of falling is reduced." Among Boonen's team-mates at Flanders will be Milan-San Remo winner Filippo Pozzato and Paolo Bettini.
One of Boonen's main rivals will be compatriot Peter van Petegem, winner of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in 2003. The rather retiring Van Petegem, who'll be happy to see Boonen taking the lion's share of the media and fans' attention, has said his preparation for Sunday has also gone well.
"I haven't been sick, I haven't crashed and the team was very strong at De Panne. I am ready and I promise that you'll be hearing about me at Flanders and Roubaix," said the Davitamon-Lotto team leader. Van Petegem will be supported by Gert Steegmans, Bart Dockx, Bert Roesems, Wim de Vocht, Wim Vansevenant, Leon van Bon and Aussie Henk Vogels.
Milram have made a couple of late changes to their line-up for Flanders. Fabio Sacchi has been forced out with knee problems, while Alberto Ongarato is still affected by a stomach virus that forced him to abandon Tirreno-Adriatico and miss San Remo. They are replaced by Germans Enrico Poitschke and Christian Knees.
There are injury problems too for Rabobank. With Oscar Freire already missing because he does not want to aggravate his ischium bone damage, they have also lost De Panne crash victim Bram de Groot, Gerben Lwik and Michael Boogerd. Their team now comprises Erik Dekker, Juan Antonio Flecha, Marc Wauters, Jan Boven, Pedro Horrillo, new Commonwealth Games road champion Mathew Hayman and Joost Posthuma.
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