PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Thor Hushovd swooped for his first Classics victory when he timed his finishing burst to perfection into the headwind gusting down the long final straight at Ghent-Wevelgem. The Norwegian swept past late breakaway Filippo Pozzato, who had looked like he might repeat his cheeky Milan-San Remo success, and finished half a wheel ahead of Gerolsteiner's David Kopp, with Alessandro Petacchi a disappointed third.
The wind played a significant role in the 210km race, blowing the field along early on, but then coming strongly across them in the latter stages as they came away from the second ascent of the Kemmelberg. A big group split with about 40km remaining, and the second half of it quickly fell out of contention, taking Tour of Flanders winner Tom Boonen with it.
That seemed to leave Petacchi and his Milram team in the ideal position. They had five riders in the break, including Erik Zabel, and looked ready to set up Petacchi for his first Belgian Classics win.
However, the first hint that all was not right with the Milram 'train' came when Davitamon-Lotto's Bert Roesems attacked 9km out. The lanky Belgian, who's a great time triallist, deserved more than to be caught just inside the 2km mark having kept the bunch at bay on unforgiving terrain - the roads were straight and the wind pretty unrelenting, but Roesems buckled long after Milram's train had run out of steam.
As the kilometre kite approached, Pozzato tried his luck, guessing that no one would respond immediately with Petacchi and a number of other leading sprinters still in the group. He was right, and only 30 metres short of being totally vindicated in making his late dash. But then Hushovd flashed by, with Kopp surprisingly pushing him harder than Petacchi.
The Norwegian from the town of Grimstad was all smiles at the finish as he celebrated his first win and looked forward to Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, while Petacchi just looked grim. His demeanour said it all. A great opportunity had passed him by.
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 210km in 4.57.33 (42.35kph)
2 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner
3 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
4 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step
5 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC
7 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise des Jeux
8 Erki Putsep (Est) Ag2r
9 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros
10 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) CSC
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 89
2 Petacchi 72
3 Pozzato 70
4 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre 70
5 Hincapie 60
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM