Boonen powers in on Champs Elysées

Tom Boonen takes the most prestigious sprint in the sport, as Lance Armstrong breaks cycling's most

Tom Boonen takes the most prestigious sprint in the sport, as Lance Armstrong breaks cycling's most
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Tom Boonen struck a final blow for youth in this Tour de France when he won the most prestigious sprint in cycling, holding off Jean-Patrick Nazon, Danilo Hondo and Robbie McEwen to take victory in the final stage on the Champs Elyses. After Danilo Hondo made the first dig for the line, 2000 Champs Elyses winner Stefano Zanini brought Quick Step team-mate Boonen through to the front at just the right moment, and the 23-year-old Belgian accelerated away for his second stage win of the race. Close behind him were last year's final stage winner Nazon, who also won earlier in this race, then Hondo, and in fourth place McEwen, who did more than enough to win the points title for the second time in three years. Some distance behind all this frenetic activity at the front, Lance Armstrong was coasting up to the line already celebrating his record-breaking sixth Tour title with his US Postal team-mates. Normally a procession until it reaches the first circuit of the Champs Elyses from whichever Parisian suburb gets the nod for the start, today's concluding moments were hectic and controversial right from the first kilometre. The man responsible was Domina Vacanze's Filippo Simeoni, who seemed determined to do whatever he could to rain on Armstrong's parade after the American had so publicly chastised him on stage 18. Simeoni's attack caught the whole bunch by surprise, and US Postal's immediate pursuit of the ltalian caused a split in the pack, most of whom assumed that the pressure would be off until the final few kilometres. Once caught, Simeoni was welcomed back to the bunch by a number of riders pointing to the side of their head to indicate what they thought of him, as he slunk to the back of the field. The battle for points began at the first of two sprints, which was won by McEwen in front of his nearest rival Thor Hushovd. Right after it a Rabobank and RAGT rider attacked and were joined by a Domina Vacanze rider. Yes, Simeoni again. His two colleagues refused to work with him, and the US Postal-led peloton came back up to them offering more gestures to the Italian. His response? An attack. Then another. His aim seemed to be no more than to annoy Armstrong, and gestures from Viatcheslav Ekimov made clear the Italian was not going to be allowed any leeway at all. Simeoni finally departed centre stage, and the sprinters emerged again. Hushovd took the next second sprint from McEwen, leaving the pair the way they started the stage. US Postal led the race onto the Champs Elyses as the team of the winning rider, and after a first parade lap the traditional breakaway followed. Ten riders went clear after an initial break by French champion Thomas Voeckler. Among those who joined him were Paolo Bettini, Juan Antonio Flecha, Scott Sunderland and Axel Merckx. This break got a maximum of 45 seconds clear and was eventually hauled back on the penultimate lap after a couple of huge turns on the front of the bunch by Jan Ullrich. Flecha, Bettini and also Fabian Cancellara tried further opportunistic moves in the closing kilometres, but could not stay clear of a peloton moving a good 10 kilometres an hour faster than they were. Most prominent on the front were Quick Step, winners of two stages and the King of the Mountains title already, and clearly confident Tour first-timer Boonen still had plenty of speed in his legs. How right they were.
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