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Discovery Channel and their US Postal predecessors may have numerous Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espa¤a victories to their credit, but they still lack a victory by any one of their riders in one of the five Classics that are the 'monuments' of the sport: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Lige-Bastogne-Lige and the Tour of Lombardy.
On Sunday, it was once again a case of close but no cigar as Leif Hoste made the decisive break at Flanders, but found Tom Boonen on his wheel and never looked likely to get the better of the world champion. However, there were signs that Discovery's Classics team is stronger than ever, with George Hincapie a career-best third behind Hoste. Both are now marked out as among the leading favourites for victory at Roubaix next Sunday.
After being convincingly outpaced in the final straight by Boonen, Hoste, outsprinted by Steffen Wesemann in 2004, took an optimistic view of his performance. "In 2004 I was part of a long breakaway and was only caught near the end, where I was just hanging on. This time the race unfolded differently," said the winner of last week's Three Days of De Panne.
"I think I have proved that I am capable of animating the final part of these races and even making the key move, because it was me who attacked on the Valkenberg. At the end of the day, I am rather satisfied knowing that only Boonen was capable of following my wheel."
Hoste admitted he had planned another attack on the Mur de Grammont or the concluding climb of the Bosberg, "but I realised that I had given most of what I had and that I couldn't accelerate on those climbs. A sprint then became inevitable. However, I think that Boonen was at his limit as well and he would not have been able to drop me if he had tried to."
Ultimately, said Hoste, the race came down to one key factor: "I don't think that Boonen was stronger than me, he was simply quicker in the sprint. I don't think I've got anything to reproach myself for."
Boonen agreed with this assessment, explaining that if Hoste had waited for the group containing Hincapie, who is a faster sprinter, the Discovery pair would also have had to deal with Paolo Bettini, who, like Boonen, would probably have beaten them both.
Unfortunately for Discovery, they also lost two of their key Classics riders in crashes. Britain's Roger Hammond needed 14 stitches in his right knee and is "99 per cent certain" to miss Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesday. He's also doubtful for Roubaix. Michael Barry suffered injuries to his back and face and according to directeur sportif Dirk Demol could be out of action for "several months".
Mixed fortunes for Discovery at FlandersClose
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